For Incoming Smith College Students:
A Graphic Novel on the Islamic Revolution
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Told from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl, the complex story of the Iranian Revolution becomes accessible in the summer reading assignment for incoming Smith College students.
For the first time, incoming Smith students have been asked to read a graphic novel, “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood,” an autobiographical perspective of the Islamic Revolution by Marjane Satrapi, who lived through the turbulent period.
Students will gather among their new housemates on September 4 as part of orientation to discuss the summer reading assignment, led by faculty members and administrators, including Smith President Carol T. Christ.
“Persepolis” was chosen as this year’s assignment because of its simple-but-effective documentation of the growth of a young girl amid the birth of the Islamic Republic, according to Jane Stangl, acting dean of the first-year class, who co-chaired the committee that selected the book.
“Satrapi’s nuanced approach to her own coming-of-age story is compelling,” said Stangl. “While she focuses on her dreams, desires and ideals as a young girl, she brings to the fore the importance of a cultural context to one’s own place in history.”
Satrapi captures the voice of a 10-year-old girl, unhappy as the story opens about being forced to wear a hijab, an Islamic veil, in school as the theocratic government takes control. At an age of innocence coupled with intense curiosity, Satrapi attains knowledge about the country’s turmoil in snippets from the adults around her.
The daughter of progressive parents, Satrapi witnesses their tense involvement in the anti-revolutionary protests while wishing to take part herself.
As Satrapi grows into an independent-minded adolescent, Iran’s political and social landscape descend further toward distrust of Western culture and insistence on strict Islamic tenets. When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military attacks Iran, sparking an 8-year war, Iran’s Islamic leaders further tighten the cultural bonds, Satrapi recounts.
Finally, at age 14, Satrapi, now a vocal adversary of the Islamic regime, is expelled from school, and for her own safety she is sent to live in Austria with friends of her parents.
Since it was published in 2003, “Persepolis” has gained international popularity. The book was included in Time magazine’s Best Comix of 2003 list, won the Angoulême Coup de Coeur Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, and has been adapted into an animated film of the same name, which debuted this May at the Cannes Film Festival.
First-year reading events have often engaged the author during orientation, and Satrapi has been invited to speak at Smith in connection with the assignment of her book. However, due to Satrapi’s schedule and the impending national release of her film, she plans to visit the college in April 2008.
“We are very excited to have her visit in the spring,” said Stangl. “By that point in time, the book will have gained an even broader audience.”
Satrapi, who lives in Paris, continues to write graphic novels, and writes and illustrates children’s books. “Persepolis” was originally written in French, and was translated into English by Satrapi’s husband, Mattias Ripa, and Blake Ferris. The story is continued in “Perspepolis 2.”
“Persepolis” joins past summer reading selections such as “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder, “Kettle Bottom” by Diane Gilliam Fisher, and “My Year of Meats” by 1980 Smith graduate Ruth Ozeki Lounsbury.
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