A Humane Turtle

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Selective Sensibility

Bildungsroman

I just finished reading ‘Persepolis‘, an autobiographic graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. The (US) English version consists of two books: the first one describes her childhood in Iran, and the second one focuses on her 4 years in exile in Austria, and her return to Iran after that.

I had gotten the books from my elder brother Martin as a Christmas present over a year ago. For some reason or another, they ended up in my bookshelf at my parent’s place, unread. It was only recently that they attracted my attention again. I had just finished a course at university, and my assistant professor, an Iranian, invited all her students out for a drink. We ended up talking about Iran. She told us about her career as a skier (having to disguise as a boy to be able to have male trainers) and about the dangers of wearing green, the color of the opposition (“a green wristband almost got me killed once”).

So when I recently got back to Austria, I knew it was time to pay attention to those books. And reading Marjane’s story turned out to be a real treat. The book not only provided insights into the history of Iran and the way of living around heavy restrictions, but was also an fun read. The plain, yet powerful style of the drawings made it possible to convey sad and shocking details, as well as funny incidents. Besides, Marjane doesn’t mince matters, may she talk about her landlord’s tea (“horse piss from a horse face”) or about her trying to pee while standing.

Being Austrian, her stories about being made a “third worlder” in Austria left a bitter aftertaste. I knew that Austria isn’t exactly a poster child when it comes to policy on foreigners, but this very personal characterization of the situation made this become even more clear.

The book was made into an animated movie in 2007, and I am now looking forward to seeing that version of the story. On a side note, I learned that the word ‘Bildungsroman’ is used in English, too.

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