The Story of a Journey to Freedom


Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.


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“Don’t forget who you are and where you come from.” These words are the last ones spoken to fourteen-year-old Marjane Satrapi by her father as she is leaving Iran, and everything she knows, to escape the Iran / Iraq war in 1984.

The graphic novel Persepolis 2, The Story of a Return picks up Marjane’s story as she has just arrived in Austria to live with people that she has never met in a country where she is an outsider. Her feelings of isolation are palpable as she maneuvers her way not only through her new world but also through her adolescence without the guidance of her parents and family. Although she attempts to combat that intense isolation with new friends and new experiences Marjane continually strives to “fit in”, even though those efforts are, at times, in direct opposition to who she is and where she comes from.

This installment of Marjane’s life takes the reader on her journey as she arrives in Europe at the age of fourteen through her return to Iran at the age of eighteen and her voluntary departure again from Iran at the age of twenty-four. This journey which began with her parents sending her away from Iran so that she could be a free and emancipated woman concludes with Marjane finding that freedom and emancipation within herself.


The format of the graphic novel is especially suited to this autobiography as it adds an edginess to the text that may be lost in translation without the added element of the illustrations. It could be argued that if the novel were done in a traditional format it could be supplemented with photographs of the events, however it would most certainly lose the personal touch and fell that Sartapi has added with her illustrations.

Caveat: Although this novel has much to offer in the classroom some censorship issues accompany it. Profanity, sex, heavy drug use, depression, homosexuality and suicide are all issues that may make the book questionable for use in the classroom and will most likely raise some concerns from parents and administrators. However, these same issues add relevance to the book for its intended audience and could open the door for some frank discussion and creative work in the classroom.

The format of the novel may also cause some concern for parents as they may not be familiar with the benefits of a graphic novel and may question the use of a what may appear to be a “comic book”.


Recommendations for Teachers

The second part of Persepolis departs from the story of the Iranian Revolution and its impact and moves to an area more concerned with the psychology of a young adult. Marjane Satrapi gives the reader a front row seat as she takes them through her adolescence and young adulthood that is haunted by the Iranian situation even as she is many thousands of miles away in Austria. She takes us through adjusting to a new environment, a new school, new friends, new customs and cultures, dealing with drugs and love, and returning home a failure.

The chapters in the second book each hold a different challenge that young adults face and while this possess' many opportunities for teaching and for students to relate to the text it's content and the way it is presented also possess a threat of censorship and contention from administrators and parents. Teachers should take special care to clear this book with their administrators and to be prepared for some opposition in some communities.

However, the life lessons in this book are too great of a tool to be ignored by teachers in middle school and high school settings. Marjane Satrapi takes the students through ways to cope with being in a new school, dealing with drug pressure and the effect of drugs, being in love, falling out of love or being broken up with, and being away from home, which are all situations that young adults in a classroom will have been through or will be going through. Also, mostly for young girls, Marjane gives an example and someone for them to relate to as they go through they bodily changes that Marjane relates as being "...an ugly stage seemingly without end." (189).

Even more than bodily changes, the whole book seems to deal with her pursuit of herself. It takes the reader through the different phases and cliche's she adopts in pursuit of herself. She also talks about the very sensitive topic of suicide that young adults sometime search out as away out, but it is shown as a failed attempt allowing teachers to use this as a teachable point that no matter how bad things get there is always a better way.

The book does not however totally abandon its point of view of history. It takes place during the end of the conflict between the Iraq and Iran and brings the reader into the Iranian point of view of the first Gulf War. Marjane returns home to Iran at the beginning of the cease fire between Iraq and Iran, which allows her to give the reader a picture of Iran during a peaceful time and how chaotic it still was for young, free-minded people. As the end of the book discusses the point of view of Iranians toward the "intervention" of the Western world in the Gulf War, it gives students a point of view that is often over looked in U.S. history textbooks and in other western media outlets.

Practical Ideas for Teachers:
  • Have students write about how they have handled a situation that is present in the book. (i.e. being at a new school, being away from home, dealing with changes in their bodies, etc...)
  • Have students act out scenes from the book.
    • In this activity you could have them say what they feel like would have been a better way to approach the situation.
  • Do a mock trail between The Committee of Saad Abad and young people that have been detained for immoral behavior.
  • Have students add to the end of the book; either what Marjane goes onto do or how her parents live out their lives.
  • This book would lend itself well to a Multi Genre project, because of its personal story set against the back drop of historical events.

About the Authorexternal image 6a00d8354d066f69e200e54ff2b9808833-800wi.jpg

Marjane Satrapi was born in Rasht, Iran. She currently lives in Paris, where she a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers such as The New Yorker and The New York Times. Her other books are Embroideries, Chicken with Plums, and several other children’s books. Satrapi has lived in France since 1994 and since then she has told her story to many different people. Because she found herself spending time explaining to people what it truly was like in Iran and what it was like to be an Iranian every time Iran was mentioned, she decided to write a book...with a little encouragement from her friends.

She also cowrote and codirected the animated feature film version of Persepolis. The original version of Persepolis was written in French and was divided in to four separate novels. and it was during the creation of the English translation that the four novels were combined in to two. In the later reprinting of the English version the entirety of the four novels book was put in one complete book.

In a short comic strip The Signing in Persepolis 2.1 by Gordon McAlpin he writes about a Satrapi interveiw in which she discusses why she wrote the series Perspolis as well as her decision to use the graphic novel format. Satrapi said that she chose to write a comic book because she likes to write and she likes to draw and could not decide between the two. So sh
book cover and link to the section written about.
book cover and link to the section written about.
e used both to present her life story. She also felt that since images are universal and language is not it would be more user friendly. Even with the current attempts to divide the Iranian country in two and the cultural differences that have emerged she feels that her people “all cry the same. We laugh the same” and we all “want to live happy lives,” (2 Satrapi).

However her life is her life, and she lived in a country were a revolution and a war happened. She just happened to be a witness to the turmoil. These events are not something that she will ever forget, even if others do. Which is why she is so willing to share her experiences with others. She makes it clear that not everyone will like her story.

One of her goals in writing her story was to ensure that the truths about the Iranian people and the war would not be lost amongst the hype of the media. She wanted to show the world that the Iranian people were real people and that not all Iranians were in agreement with the government.

Satrapi wanted to have a voice. She wanted to tell the world what had happened without the fear of what would happen to her or having people tell her what really happened even if they had not been there.




Multimedia

The following clip is a clip with Satrapi talking about her book becoming a movie and why she choose to do it and the book the way that she did.


Additional Resources:
http://www.randomhouse.com/highschool/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375422881&view=rg - Reading guide with discussion questions for the classroom.
http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/literacy/findresources/graphicnovels/index.asp - Excellent resource for teachers using graphic novels in the classroom.
http://www.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2006/mar06_brenner.asp - FAQ's on Graphic Novels
http://www.uic.edu/classes/ad/ad382/sites/Projects/P009/P009_first.html - Lesson plan for creating autobiographical comics.
http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=1063 - Lesson plan for Persepolis.
http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=1063 - helpfull hints and activies that students can partake in while reading the book.
http://islamicunitstudies.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/persepolis-lesson-plans/- lesson plans and preperation for students.
http://www.getgraphic.org/GG_Kits/Persepolis/Persepolis%20Lesson%20Plans.pdf- two lesson plans, questions, and a final assement for teachers.
http://picturebooksforolderreaders.pbworks.com/Persepolis-Lesson-Plan- lesson plans for 10th-12th grade history classes.
http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=195- lesson plans for graphic novels.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/gulf/ - Background, Video, Interviews and Stories of the U.S. part in the Gulf War.



Reviewers
Melissa Anderson
Katherine Westveer
Matt Milanowski