Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 19, 2010

Persepholis, by Marjane Satrapi, translated by Mattias Ripa

Tonight I tried reading my first graphic novel, Persepholis by Marjane Satrapi.  It was not a success.

I had wanted to read this account of the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath since it was recommended by Tony in the commentary that arose after I read The House of the Mosque.  The book – which is really Books I & II in one volume – tells the story of  Satrapi’s family in the last days of the Shah and the ensuing repression under the fundamentalist Iranian regime.  It’s interesting because it recounts the fervour with which the Shah was despatched, the subsequent disenchantment and the eventual horror that intellectuals and liberals felt when dissidents were tortured and killed in the name of Islam.

The problem for me was the format.  The copy I borrowed from the library was the usual paperback size, with three rows of cartoons per page.  The print was so small that I could not read it with my reading glasses.  I had to resurrect some magnifying spectacles that I used to use for fine embroidery and use a magnifying glass as well.  I persisted till I reached the end of Book I, and then gave up.

I love reading, but not enough to give myself a nasty headache.

Author: Marjane Satrapi
Title: Persepholis
Publisher: Vintage 2008
ISBN: 9780099523994
Source: Kingston Library


  1. Hi Lisa
    I haven’t read the book but I have seen the cartoon movie Marjane Satrapi made out of it. It’s wonderful. Maybe you could borrow the dvd and try it that way


    • That could be the solution. There must be lots of people like me with the same problem. I think they’d have been better to have used a larger format paperback….


  2. I saw this in my library and had been recommended it by lots and lots of people but I didn’t like the format either. I have seen the film version though which is marvellous.


    • Two recommendations from friends with good taste is good enough for me – I’ve ordered the film from Big Pond movies!


  3. Well tell me about it when you have seen it


  4. Uh, oh. A book in the busy format of Persepolis should never be printed in usual paperback size. It needs to have the full 8X11 treatment which is what I read. I haven’t seen the DVD, but now I’ll look for it.


  5. I did read part 1 a few months back and I didn’t like it as much as I was expecting. I have recently reread it though and I have to admit that I think it is one of my favourites among the Iranian memoirs.


  6. One thing that shone through it for me was the crazy courage of adolescent girls. Knowing what we know about the religious police and the suppression of all dissent, it seems absurd to put oneself at risk for tokens like Michael Jackson badges but that’s what Satrapi did. And her parents, smuggling in rock posters for her!
    The stubborn hope that things would get better reminded me of Jews under Hitler. Friends and relatives left when they could, but some people stayed because they could not believe the rumours were true, and they were afraid of making a fresh start as refugees with nothing, not even the language they needed to get decent jobs.
    I heard a program yesterday about young Iranians who just want their country to be part of the normal international community. It was very sad.


  7. Lisa –

    You may want to check out Iraqi Girl: Diary of Teenage Girl in Iran if you want to read more on the topic. I’ve had it sitting on my nightstand for a month, trying to find the time to read it – I’ve heard excellent reviews.

    Graphic Novels are an “acquired taste” in my experience. I hope you won’t give up on them based on one bad experience. I came to appreciate them through comic books and can’t believe how far they have come. Maus by Art Spiegelman is a classic. I also loved Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton which tells a story in the form of an auction catalog. (There’s a review on my blog – but I didn’t feel right leaving a link in my response).


  8. Thanks for this: I haven’t given up on graphic novels but I have learned that I can only read the bigger ones, or at least to check the size of the font first.
    BTW a link in a comment is fine if it’s relevant:) If you add two your comment will go to moderation (to check that it’s not a spammer) but I check this site just about every day so it wouldn’t be held up for long.


  9. Here it is then:



  10. There’s a blog post, too, over at the Guardian, by a reader who came to graphic novels via Persepolis — she gives her recommendations, and the people who come after her follow up with more of their own.

    And Ed Howard over at Only the Cinema posted his “Best comics of the decade” list a little while ago.

    Even though Dave Sim, the creator, went bats part-way into the run, I’m sad to see Cerebus at the very bottom of the list — not because the finished story belongs any higher but because it had such potential once upon a time, and because he worked on it for so long, and so doggedly.


  11. That looks like a very interesting book BS! I lvoe it when writers experiment with clever ideas like this, thanks for the link.
    Deane, how about you get together a lovely page on your blog with all these beaut graphic novels links so that they will all be together when I am looking for them?


  12. The only graphic novel I have read and enjoyed was Introducing Kafka by Mairowitz and Crumb – but then I found that the contents were unreliable anyway. I like cartoons in newspapers but a book of them leaves me rather cold. Nice review as always


  13. Now I come to think of it, I have a ‘beginner’s guide to Marx’ in graphic novel format somewhere. There are some strange oddments on our bookshelves….I’ve never got round to reading it…


  14. It would feel presumptuous. I read graphic novels (comic books, whatever name pleases) but I don’t have a very wide experience of them. Lots of webcomics out there, by the way, if anyone here wants to try out the genre further but isn’t sure what they might like. Ed Howard mentions the absurdist Achewood ( ) but you’ve also got historical drama ( for example), gamer comics, domestic dramas, furry tales, fantasy stories, manga, and John Allison being British:


    • I don’t think it would be presumptuous. I’d much rather read a blog post by someone who is widely read and knowledgeable about literary fiction *and* interested in graphic novels than by a graphic novels expert who perhaps hasn’t read much literature. Lisa


  15. Howard is probably the man to see. I don’t know how much prose literature he reads, but his film literacy is extremely good, and he’s articulate (and yet when I click on the link to his blog now there’s nothing there. Where has it gone? Is this temporary? I have no idea). Graphic novels are something like frozen films; I’m not sure that prose literature experience really translates across the genres cleanly.

    If you’re ever searching, specifically, for a literary kind of graphic novel then Alan Moore’s From Hell might be a place to start. A well-read man, Moore, hard-working, intelligent, and in Hell he uses Jack the Ripper as the starting point for a psychogeographical examination of late 19th-century London — the tone is a bit like Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoore, dark and sombre. The lettering is not the kindest, though.


  16. Holidays are coming up…I might go exploring in my local libraries and see what else they have.
    With big fonts, that is!


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: