(2 of 2)
She laments the lack of a hero in her own family: her dad never went to prison, not once! But soon her uncle is released from jail and regales her with stories of suffering. She sleeps with the swan that he fashioned out of bread in his cell. During the day, she and her friends make up "torture games" to play in the street.
But within days, her uncle is taken back to prison and executed. The family friend is found drowned in his bathtub. Satrapi's non-religious French school is shut down and she is sent to an all-girls school. All the while, people cope by living in the small cracks in the system. It is in these cracks that Persepolis shines. When Satrapi and her friends are handed veils to wear, they tie them together to make a jump rope. From her parents' vacation to Turkey, she asks them to bring back forbidden tokens of Western culture: a denim jacket, chocolate and posters of Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden, which they dutifully smuggle in the lining of a coat. After she is threatened by the Guardians of the Revolution on the street, who berate her for her sneakers and jacket, she locks herself in her bedroom and dances madly to Kids in America.
But Satrapi does not neglect the darker side of human adaptation, either. As one corrupt leadership is swapped with another, the hypocrisy trickles down. A neighbor who has always had a spot on her cheek now claims she got it from a bullet at a revolutionary demonstration. Another woman who used to flit round the neighborhood in miniskirts suddenly dons a full-length chador. The war with Iraq begins, but the cancers within seem almost as toxic as the bombs outside. Satrapi's mother puts up black curtains to prevent the neighbors from spying on their illegal card games. Satrapi is struck by a slogan on a wall: "To die a martyr is to inject blood into the veins of society."
The book ends when Satrapi is sent off by her parents to Austria, where she will find herself free but utterly alone. (A sequel about this excruciating adjustment is out in France and set for release in English in September 2004.) In the last frame, Satrapi looks back one last time to see her mother, a rock of a woman, fainting in her father's arms.
When Satrapi visited Iran in 2000, she was impressed with the changes. They were small, but then Satrapi is a student of details. "Probably I will not see Iran the way I want to see it in my lifetime. But so what?" she says, talking so fast she outpaces her own breath. The adult Satrapi, like the child in her book, is a beguiling character. She is adrift in earnestness one moment, and then alight with brutal realism the next. From a hotel room in Austin, Texas, she marvels at the open-mindedness of the Americans who have come to hear her on a promotional tour. Her biggest problem so far is caused by the smoking restrictions. In Iran, she learned that the more forbidden something was, the more she craved it. "So I smoke 10 times as much in America," she says.
Later, in less sunny tones, she sums up her rebuttal of President Bush's rhetoric toward Iraq and Iran. "What I would like is for the U.S. to say, 'We don't give a shit about you. We are the lion in the jungle, and we are eating you because we are more powerful.' Fine. But all this talk of goodness and liberation and 'We love you' makes me sick."
After two months fighting for a visa, Satrapi arrived at JFK Airport in New York on May 14. For an hour and a half she was interrogated, fingerprinted and, she says, talked down to by customs officials. Afterward, in the corridor of the airport, drained and shaken, she did something she has never done: she fainted, "like one of these Victorian ladies," she says, laughing. Or like her mother, watching her leave Tehran airport so many years before. Then Satrapi got up, climbed into a waiting limo, rolled down the windows and started smoking.