I saw the animated movie version of this book and its sequel before reading them, but I don't think that undermined my enjoyment of the story at all....moreI saw the animated movie version of this book and its sequel before reading them, but I don't think that undermined my enjoyment of the story at all. The book and the movie are different enough that the one doesn't feel redundant without the other. (I did look for, and was very slightly disappointed not to find, a scene like the one in the movie, where the child Marjane, God, and Karl Marx are all having a confab in Marji's imagination, but that's the only instance I can think of in which my experience of the book suffered from my having seen the movie.)
Anyway, this volume starts out (on the very first page) with the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Because the author was a child at the time, she filters it through her childish self; she tells us it happened, but instead of dwelling on hows and whys, details of battles and politics, etc., she immediately moves on to how the new Islamic regime affected her life as a schoolgirl. She movingly describes a loss of freedom she can't comprehend, and her efforts to understand what has happened and why her parents are afraid.
Even though Satrapi is rigorously careful to give us the story only from her child-self's perspective, not grafting any later-acquired knowledge or insight onto her ten-year-old avatar, she does let us see something of her parents' struggle with what to tell her, and what to withhold, about the Revolution and their family's involvement with it. (They are leftists, and thus had been anti-Shah, but also opposed to the Islamic Republic.) Marji finds out bits and pieces, often occasioned by one of her school friends having a missing relative who is likely a political prisoner.
Of course, the Revolution touches her family, too. It has good effects and bad, albeit much more of the latter. The one good effect is that she gets to meet an uncle she's never met before, a man who defied the Shah, fled to the USSR, and was imprisoned when he tried to sneak back into Iran to visit his family.
Under the new regime, things get worse and worse, with dissidents being rounded up and shot (including two friends of the family), Marji's mother being harassed on the street by morality police, and police raids on people's homes to look for banned items like alcohol, music, videotapes, games, anything Western, frivolous or un-Islamic. Marji's family has one very close call involving a police raid on their apartment building on a night they happened to be throwing a party.
Then the Iran-Iraq war starts, and soon enough bombs start falling on Tehran, where Marji's family lives.
This is so dangerous that Marji's parents decide to send her to Europe to finish her education someplace other than a war zone.
I don't think this volume covers a whole lot of ground, chronologically speaking --- it starts out in 1980, which is the same year the Iran-Iraq War began according to Wikipedia. But the character of Marji grows a lot, even if she only ages a year or less. At the beginning of the book, she has enormous self-confidence and general confidence that the world is a good place. Her religious faith is strong, if childish. She talks to God, and believes she will be a prophet when she grows up. She's a teller of tall tales and a leader of other children.
As she keeps witnessing horrible things, though, she loses a lot of her self-confidence, and her faith in people and the world. (I'm not sure about her faith in God. She doesn't talk to God for a long while, but she never says she stops believing in him). She is often morally humbled, by other people's heroism and by her own lapses into cowardice, cruelty, frivolity and brattiness, as well as her inability to save the people she loves from death.
But she is brave even in the face of all the horrible things, too. She never stops defying the strict new Islamic regime, even being the class clown in her new, sex-segregated school. She stands up to the religious police on at least two occasions: once when her family was having the party and were going to have their apartment searched, and Marji and her grandmother have to get away from the police, sneak upstairs and dump all the alcohol down the drain; and again when an officer accosts her over her clothes.
The art is simple but not crude; people's faces are rendered in a few lines --- eyes, round, oval, or slitted; eyebrows; bushy black mustaches and beards or enveloping chadors; mouths, a tight line to convey tension, various shapes to convey speech, shouting, crying, anger, laughter or joy, or a squiggly line to convey awkwardness --- that still mostly succeed in distinguishing individuals. (There are a couple pages where I couldn't tell different women apart, but mostly it's easy to tell who's who). Also, for how simple they are, the facial expressions manage to convey an incredible amount of emotion. It's like she stripped the faces and figures of all extraneous detail, leaving only enough to confer a distinct identity on each character and to represent what that character is feeling in a given panel. There are also a lot of motifs taken from ancient Persian art, particularly when the story digresses into Persian history or mythology. These images are quite beautiful.
I also have ALL THE ADMIRATION IN THE WORLD for Marjane Satrapi's honesty. She is not afraid to show her younger self in an unflattering light, and because her avatar, Marji, is not always good, we get a more interesting and complex character. We see her moral sense develop with time and experience.
Some other reviewers and commenters have complained that this comic book is an insubstantial treatment of a serious time in history, but I think the relative focus on smaller, domestic and schoolyard dramas is true to the protagonist's level of maturity. I also felt that enough of the war crept in at the margins (and, at times, welled up to flood the whole page) to show us how it shaped Satrapi's worldview. And this is Satrapi's story, not the story of Iran, or the Shah, or the Ayatollah, or the Islamic Revolution or the Iran-Iraq War. The war is only relevant to the extent that it shaped the central character. (less)
I liked the story this book told --- and I loved the Earth-devouring alien robots as metaphor for multinational corporations --- but the art style bug...moreI liked the story this book told --- and I loved the Earth-devouring alien robots as metaphor for multinational corporations --- but the art style bugged me. I thought the drawings were overly crude and awkward, and just didn't look like much thought had been put into them at all. The story and dialogue make me give this book a good rating, but my beef with the art style prevents me from giving it a four or five.(less)
This is a tricky one to review, because while there's a lot I loved about it --- it's very satisfying in a narrative sense, with a lot of long-running...moreThis is a tricky one to review, because while there's a lot I loved about it --- it's very satisfying in a narrative sense, with a lot of long-running threads resolved and tied together, and it gives us much more of Dr. Allison Mann's backstory --- I absolutely hated the answer to the question of what caused the XY-killing plague.
Without going into spoileriffic detail, I'll just say I thought it was an obnoxious injection of magic into what had been a non-magical, realistic world. I have a biochemistry degree, and I had been impressed at how little head-slapping Bad Science this book contained (a frequent problem for science fiction of the "mysterious plague" subgenre) and at how well Brian K. Vaughn had succeeded at writing technical dialogue for Dr. Mann that wasn't gibberish to someone who actually knew what all the words meant. But all that goes right out the window in this volume ... in earlier volumes, the series had flirted with the idea that magic exists (prescient dreams, red herrings about enchanted rings or ancient amulets), and I had liked the tension between these elements and the dogged realism of Dr. Mann's search for the cause of Yorick's immunity to the plague. But in this installment, instead of stepping up the juggling act, Vaughn seems to have chosen to drop one of the balls.(less)