After reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (my review at the link) last September for Banned Books Week, I was eager to read the follow-up book, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, which is also a graphic memoir like the first book. What motivated me to finally request it at the library this spring were two unrelated events: my son’s 12th grade World Lit class was reading Persepolis (which reminded me I’d meant to read the sequel) and Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) chose both Persepolis and Persepolis 2 as the June selection for her feminist book group, Our Shared Shelf, onGoodreads.
Persepolis 2 picks up Marjane’s life story where Persepolis left off, when the author is in her early teens. Her parents send her to Austria to live with family friends, to get her away from the war and violence tearing their own country, Iran, apart. Things don’t work out well in the small apartment with the family friends, though, who soon send Marji off to a boarding school in Vienna. Thus begins a period of displacement for Marji, where she is shuttled from one place to another, always feeling like the outsider and missing her home and her family.
On top of these very unique difficulties, Marji is also dealing with all the usual challenges of adolescence: growing up, fitting in, and figuring out who she is. Marji continues to feel like an outsider and sees right away that no one in Europe understands or appreciates the horrific things that are happening in her home country. Given her mixed upbringing, in a secular home with a government based on strict religious adherence, she isn’t sure where she falls in terms of religion, which is even more confusing as she is living with nuns. She feels uncomfortable with her European peers’ focus on fashion, make-up, and sex and struggles to get along in a second language (French).
Gradually, she becomes friends with a group of misfits but even with them, she often feels like she doesn’t fit in. She tries out different personas, including punk. The years go by, and friends come and go, and Marji even has her first boyfriend…but she yearns to return home. Eventually, her situation degrades until she is in a serious crisis. She finally gets to return home to Iran.
|Sample page: Marji experiments with different looks|
She is thrilled to see her parents and grandmother again, but her homecoming leaves her feeling once again like an outsider. Having heard little of the atrocities occurring in her home country while in Europe, it’s as if she has been living in another world. She must re-adjust to wearing the veil and other customs required to fit in now in Iran. Family members and friends have been killed in the war, imprisoned, and tortured. Some of those who survived are now disabled. Feeling like she doesn’t even fit in at home, Marji struggles with depression but eventually goes to university and gets on with her adult life.
Marji’s story is gut-wrenching but captivating. She experienced all the normal adolescent problems, including wrestling with her identity, while also constantly feeling different from those around her. As with the chronicle of her childhood in Persepolis, this stark, complicated coming-of-age story is reflected in her black-and-white drawings. Her basic experiences are often universal and relatable, while set against this stunning, often horrifying, backdrop. Eventually, with plenty of missteps, Marji does make it to adulthood and figures out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. You will be rooting for her every step of the way in this powerful, moving graphic memoir.
187 pages, Pantheon
NOTE: As with Persepolis, Persepolis 2 is an excellent book for older teens and young adults (my son's 12th grade World Lit class read Persepolis this year) though parents should be aware when considering this book for younger kids that it is about becoming an adult and deals honestly with alcohol, drugs, smoking, and sex, as well as the war, torture, and violence happening in Iran.