My 16 year old daughter is in her first year at Gymnasium, doing the International Baccalaureate program. Along with this comes a pretty heavy emphasis on English language literature, and there's a very long list, some 20 pages, of reading material that the teachers get to pick from. She's just got her actual reading selection list for the year, and it's got the usual suspects: To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Austen (which book unspecified yet), Animal Farm, some Shakespeare, some Chaucer, a little Poe. Ulysses, god help her, because I won't be able to with that one.
But kudos to her teacher, because it also contains this absolute masterpiece of a graphic novel.
This is actually part 1 of 2, and although I usually skip the synopsis, I suspect this one is not overly well known, so here goes:
Wise, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking, Persepolis tells the story of Marjane Satrapi's life in Tehran from the ages of six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution and the devastating effects of war with Iraq.
The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandaughter of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life.
Amidst the tragedy, Marjane's child's eye view adds immediacy and humour, and her story of a childhood at once outrageous and ordinary, beset by the unthinkable and yet buffered by an extraordinary and loving family, is immensely moving. It is also very beautiful; Satrapi's drawings have the power of the very best woodcuts.
Anyway, as said, a proper review after the second half, but I can say this: The comparisons to Maus are unavoidable, but for a host of reasons, this tale is a little more accessible to me: It's written in my lifetime, about events I remember, if vaguely, by someone about the same age as me. And it's tender, powerful, sad and beautiful.