Best Fictional Books


'Persepolis', by Marjane Satrapi (2003)


In the first installment of this graphic novel, Satrapi mined her childhood to produce a vivid and intimate glimpse of life in revolutionary and postrevolutionary Iran. The story, told in stark black-and-white images, follows Satrapi's 10-year-old alter ego, Marji, as she scurries around the war-torn streets of Tehran with her veil tied securely in place but rebelling however she could--smoking cigarettes, listening to Iron Maiden, and wearing a Michael Jackson pin on her denim jacket. In volume two, Marji's Marxist parents, wary of raising their 14-year-old daughter in the repressive republic, decide to send her to Europe. But instead of setting her free, her journey becomes the departure point for her toughest trials. Arriving in Vienna--as Satrapi did as a teenager--Marji tries desperately to adapt to Western life, experimenting with drugs, sex, and rave parties. A stranger on the street calls her a "dirty foreigner" and her Austrian landlady kicks her out, accusing her of being a whore and a thief. Like so many immigrants, she tries to fit in yet constantly finds herself defending her homeland. "Telling someone you were Iranian meant you had to justify yourself for two hours [and] explain that you don't drive a camel in the street," she says. Satrapi's comic-book style, featuring blunt black-and-white graphics that evoke Persian-style miniatures, makes the story accessible and underscores the narrative's most surprising quality: its humor. In one of the most delightful sequences, Marji is running to catch a bus when she is stopped by government-sanctioned Guardians of the Revolution (armed enforcers of Islamic codes and morality), who scold her for running because it causes her posterior to make "obscene" movements. "Well, then, don't look at my ass!" Marji replies. Like Marji, Satrapi never really assimilated. Homeless and sick, she returned to Tehran at 18, earned a college degree, and married an Iranian. But she could never quite come to grips with her homeland. "You can judge a country's modernity by the treatment of its women," she says. "The Islamic Republic [has] drilled into women's heads that they are worth half of what a man is." After seven years she divorced her husband and moved to Paris. In a tear-jerking sequence, Marji's mother accompanies her to the airport again. "This time, you're leaving for good. You are a free woman, and Iran is not a place for you," she tells her daughter. "I forbid you to ever come back." Satrapi never did. But it is our good fortune that she has never stopped visiting Iran in her mind.