Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a graphic memoir (a memoir in graphic novel form) of Marjane Satrapi's childhood years in Tehran, Iran during the late 70s and early 80s. Those old enough to remember—or know their history—will recall that this is the time when the Shah was evicted from Iran and a religious dictatorship took his place, the American embassy was captured and 52 people were held hostage for over a year, and Iran went to war with Iraq. I'm about Satrapi's age, so I recall those events (from a safe distance) and coming to believe that Iran was ground zero for chaos in the Middle East and the bastion of "Death to America!" sentiment. Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's attempt to relate what living there was like.
Satrapi's parents were Marxist intellectuals who protested against the Shah's corruption and oppression. This rebellious attitude rubbed off on little Marji and carried with her into her teens. As one tyrant was replaced by a worse one, this became a dangerous trait for Marji to have. As friends and family members were arrested and executed as spies and enemies of the state, the walls around Marji closed in. But rather than shut down, she pushed back as much as any rebellious teen would.
Satrapi remains true to her younger self in telling her story. When she's a child, she daydreams of great things. When she's a teen, she longs for those things that every teen wanted back then: jeans and rock music. While the adult Marjane narrates the story, revealing truths Marji didn't know at the time, she never gets in the way.
The artwork is stark, rendered in black and white. It seems fitting. It reflects the mood. Artistic flourishes and vibrant colors would be out of place here. While the drawings could be labelled "simple," it isn't an insult. In fact, it lends an air of authenticity. Coupled with the workman style of the dialogue, I feel as though I'm reading the illustrated journal of a young girl.
It's probably unpopular to suggest that Persepolis should be in the same conversation as The Diary of Anne Frank. There is plenty of propaganda dictating that all Muslims are evil and makes no distinction between ethnicity or branches of faith. But setting aside their skin colors and religious backgrounds, there is very little that divides these two stories. They both deal with young women growing up under oppressive regimes where the threat of violence is real.