Satrapi grew up in a family of leftie intellectuals who suffered under the Shah and gladly worked for his overthrow, only to see their fellow rebels kicked out or killed by Khomeini's thugs. Once the ayatollahs take over, the book enters, just as the author's life did, an alien world of repression in which lives are lost -- or at least bones are broken -- over the requirement that women wear "The Veil"; Western culture is demonized and forbidden; men are tortured for flirting with women; and boys are sent to the front to fight Iraqi troops, armed with cardboard, gold-painted "keys to heaven."
Persepolis isn't all grim, however; Satrapi places the political horror stories within the context of her life with family and friends, which provides generous doses of humanity, as well as humor in unexpected places. For instance, at one point Marjane, at age 13, tells a meddling morals cop that the Michael Jackson button she's wearing is actually a picture of Malcolm X; the Muslim connection, needless to say, gets her off the hook.
What comes across very strongly in Satrapi's wonderful book is the realization that there's not a dime's worth of difference between a political system run by Islamic fundamentalists and any other modern totalitarian state. Either way, it's a horror show. What troubles this writer is remembering the axiom that countries often come to resemble the enemies they fight. We can only hope that Satrapi's recent experience at JFK Airport, as reported in the New York Times, isn't an omen. When she presented her Iranian passport, she was fingerprinted and interrogated by an American immigration official who demanded to know why she called her native land "EE-rahn" rather than "EYE-ran," and wouldn't let her go until she had pronounced it the way we do in the good ole USA.
Recent and Recommended
You Can't Win
by Jack Black
Author William S. Burroughs said this was his favorite book of all time. For a lot of people, that's enough of a recommendation. For others, we'll tell you it's an elegantly simple and powerfully told true story of a rough-as-a-cob life in the early part of the 20th century, entailing time in and out of prison and in the company of murderers, bootleggers, bums, you name it. This is, essentially, the prototype for all subsequent American life-in-the-underworld books. Unlike most prototypical books, though, this one is probably the best of its genre.
The Sinister Pig
by Tony Hillerman
Every new book from the aging Hillerman, one of the finest mystery writers ever, seems like a gift now. This small novel is Hillerman stripped down to the essentials, as if he's divesting himself of everything but whatever it takes to make his plot zoom along. Here, his Navajo Tribal Police stalwarts Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn team up -- aided and hampered by the FBI, the Border Patrol, the DEA, and last but not least, the Homeland Security folks -- to investigate the murder of an undercover agent who was looking into possible sabotage at an oil pipeline. Cross-jurisdictional battles blow up, of course, as the different agencies fight it out over this valuable but barren stretch of land. In the end, the different elements of the separate inquiries unexpectedly come together in classic Hillerman fashion. It's remarkable how, even in this spare book, he manages to evoke the strangeness of the Southwest and the ways of Navajo culture.
Across An Inland Sea
by Nicholas Howe
(Princeton Univ. Press).
A brilliant and unique collection of essays, well worth searching for. Although they're ostensibly about travel, Howe's writings are actually penetrating looks at a variety of places -- from Berlin to Buffalo to Oklahoma to Paris -- and why those locales hold residents and visitors in thrall. The enormous importance of place and how it shapes lives and dreams, as well as our view of ourselves, comes across again and again in this deep and thoughtful book.
Sons of Mississippi
by Paul Hendrickson
Starting with one famous photograph from the civil rights era -- seven Mississippi sheriffs preparing to try to stop James Meredith from becoming the first black to attend Ole Miss -- Hendrickson traces the lives of the seven men in the years since that notorious 1962 battle. Rather than a George Wallace-like tale of racists redeemed, which has become a popular narrative of the South's changes, the author sees little other than a continuing bitterness, passed down to present generations. Not the feel-good ending many people want and apparently need when they consider our region's racial struggles, but a real, wrenching view of the lingering effects of racism's poisons running through the country's veins.
-- John Grooms, Pat Hiller, David A. Moore, Dana Renaldi