Humor despite war – Persepolis | Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is an autobiographical depiction of Marjane Satrapi’s life in Iran in the late 1900s. At the time, Iran was fraught with internal conflicts and external influence – a rebellion against the reigning Shah in 1979 followed by the war with Iraq, all of which resulted in Iran becoming a theocratic nation today, governed strictly under the rules of Islam.

Into a country where all kinds of media or potential influences against Islam go  through strict scrutiny, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a one-sided glass window. It lets the outside world peek into the life of Iranians at the time, particularly the author’s own life. The book is divided into two parts. The Story of a Childhood is about a young Marjane Satrapi who grows up in Iran when it was rebelling against its monarchy. The Story of a Return deals with a mix of teenage confusion and the sudden need for Western assimilation that she is suddenly faced with.

It is no doubt that what first draws any reader to Persepolis is the lure of a glimpse into life in Iran, a working model of a theocratic nation. What makes them stay is the endearing way that Satrapi honestly tells her story – all her mistakes and decisions and conflicts – her growth from being an all-knowing kid who boasted about her uncle’s torturous treatment in prison to a girl who tries to find her identity in a foreign nation while being emotionally stuck in her own country.

In a way, Persepolis takes Haruki Murakami’s quote and flips it over:

In the midst of [death], everything revolved around [life].

The most wonderful thing about the book is how light-hearted it remains despite being engulfed in war. Maybe it was a recollection of Satrapi being a child, thus being protected by her parents. Or it might have been a reflection of her personality – her rebellious side and her natural nonchalance – as described by one of her friends; the kind of personality people might silently evolve into to hold their own against an oppressive regime.

Despite high expectations, Satrapi has a way of making you fall in pace with herself. The smooth transitions between storytelling and narration makes it feel like you’re having a tete-a-tete with her. It also helps that she provides an unbiased and in-depth analysis of her own life. So when the gravity of her worries shift from the latest bombing to friends she feels alienated from, you understand the transition completely while still wondering at the extremities. You can see all the factors going into creating and re-shaping her personality – her nation’s political situation, her cross-culture exposure, her education, reading and the unconditional support of her parents. All things aside, Persepolis is also a shout-out to feminism, the urge of not conforming to society and continuing the journey to discover your identity. It is a reveling story illustrated such that the images will keep coming back to you for a long time.



If you’re not used to reading comics, you can still pick this up. But give yourself some room to adjust to the form of representation and don’t hurry yourself. While people say it easy to read comics, I feel the best illustrated ones are usually a tad more tedious to read than regular novels, because there is so much more information flowing into the brain. In the end, it will definitely be worth it.




A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)

“God sometimes tells lies. We spread our hands out to these lies and live with them”[1]

In what seems to be a long long time(even though it was just three days). I have finally reached the end of A Fine Balance. What remains now is a profound sadness, but also a slight confusion, that I try to dispel as I write.

What I can say about the book is that it drips with life, or better, tries to replicate life itself: complete with its miseries, struggles, incomprehensibilities, meetings, joys, stagnancies, and of course, goodbyes.It begins with a meeting, which, while pulling the characters out of their immediate predicaments, ends up as a prelude to unforeseen but consequential events.Fate brings them together and need binds them, albeit with a cord so frayed it threatens to break at the slightest of innocent pressure.

Still, like the memories that refuse to be forgotten, the book keeps bringing up their pasts, which they uselessly try to put behind them. A curious group of misfits(a middle-aged widow trying to live without depending on her brother; a college going student who has weathered severe bullying and violent student unions; a kind-hearted man and his hot-headed nephew, who have dearly paid the casualties of being in the lower chamaar caste in their native village), the house where they live becomes a haven to them which they viciously protect.

From the beginning, Mistry makes us fall in love with the characters. It has been a while since I’ve empathized with the characters to the extent that I’m impatient to know where their lives will take them next; and yet increasingly reluctant as the end approached, maybe because I could sense the impending doom and recognize the subtle forebodings.

All people are but a product of their circumstances. They all have their own reasons, beliefs, stories, moral codes and breaking points, and Mistry does well to explore these to their darkest depths. The setting of the book (1970s – 1980s) when India was fraught with political uprisings, caste based riots and, above all, the consequences of the Emergency (forced sterilization camps, destruction of slums, and effectively, the withdrawal of all human rights for those without money or powerful backing) helped this generously, but was not half-heartedly done. Above everything else, Mistry shows India ruthlessly, glorifying in all its twisted sensibilities and heartlessness, but all the while preserving the kindness and love people inherently retain in their hearts, perhaps to prove their humanity to a society which will not give them their due.

The book does not have a happy ending, so to say. There is, after all, a limit to how far people can walk a tightrope while continuously glancing behind their backs. Their pasts inevitably catches up with them and smashes them back to where they began. Yet, that does not refute the short refuge they enjoyed when together with one another, making it one of the most beautiful time of their lives.

And what do I myself have to say about the time spent reading the book? Simply that, along with giving an interesting glimpse into the 1970s India, it taught me a lot of things I had no other way of knowing. I am a different person now from when I picked it up, and for that it deserves my respect and gratitude.

HEADS-UP: Look forward to plenty of unusual allegories and motifs, but not to a happy ending. Take your time savoring this book, it has a lot to offer(literally, it’s 614 pages, in fine print). It’s gonna get an easily accessible place on my shelf. And most importantly, do give it a shot, but remember, it is not for the weak-hearted.

QUOTES: A Fine Balance  is more of a paragraph-quotes book, if you know what I mean. Still, here are some of my favorite picks:








 As always, feel free to discuss your opinions/suggestions.

[1] Kamisama ga uso o tsuku by Kaori Ozaki

Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)

So, I finally got around to reading a Murakami book and for no particular reason, I ended up picking Norwegian wood. It was a pretty decent read, and quite different from my usual fantasy novels.

What I liked the most about this book was, well, the writing style. Murakami has this way of drawing you in. Of course I haven’t read any of his other books, I have them on my to-read list already, because he doesn’t seem to be a disappointing writer. The characters were another strong point of the book. I liked how the protagonist refrained from categorizing characters, since no person can be fairly tagged with a single adjective. Murakami himself didn’t indulge in explaining each and everything everyone in the book did and he left a fair portion of the people in the book a mystery to the reader, just like in real lives. More than anything else, he presented an amazing variety of characters, who I found a little weird in the beginning, but got used to very quickly(not to mention one of them closely resembled one of my friends). To put it simply, Murakami’s characters were strange. They were easy to fall in love with, and they felt real.

That being said, the plot didn’t seem a very huge aspect of the novel. It was fairly predictable, but that didn’t make the book any less appealing. The characters were constantly juggling with love, death and life(and sex). A lot of death and sex. Quite a few of them ended up killing themselves and almost all serious conversations ended up with sex. The suicides were off-putting for me. I’m a fairly optimistic person, and suicides never seem to be the right choice to me(I may be naive in thinking so, but that’s my take for now). Death is too extreme, and, well, it ends all other future options, and I can’t help but think that there has to be some other alternative. This was probably why I couldn’t like the book as much as I wanted to.

Anyways, it had many good quotes, and here are a few I liked…


The main themes of the book: life and death.


For all of us who love to experiment different book styles, here’s a legitimate reason.


Harder than it sounds. If only the characters followed through with it…


A unique way to put it. I’ll be using this for sure.


That does it. No more am I gonna pity myself.


Makes sense. It would be too easy in a perfect world to push ourselves beyond our abilities.


The sad truth..


It was really a heartbreaking story. Funny how they are always the most moving.


A great self-description. I started liking Nagasawa after this, though it didn’t last for long.

And that’s it. Norwegian Wood is a story about different people, how they reconcile with their pasts, and decide on the path they want to follow. It has a sad tone to it, and it obviously is not a very good choice when you’re looking for a thriller. There were some parts of the book that I absolutely loved and others that I didn’t feel strongly about(and a few that I disliked) , but it definitely got me thinking about a lot of things. It’s a book that I’d like to discuss.

Rating: 4/5