2006-2010 Book Reviews

The Emulsion of Politics and Sentiment in Persepolis

In a culture like post-revolutionary Iran, sentiment is the only means of survival in such a harsh political landscape.

At one point in the book Persepolis, Marji’s father tells her that “politics and sentiment don’t mix,” and yet much of the book’s power comes from precisely that combination–on the one hand, there are the horrible realities of the revolution and the war; and on the other hand, there is the example of Satrapi’s family, whose strength and love really do become a means of survival for Marji.
Taking into account both the book and the movie, how do you react to the father’s statement that “politics and sentiment don’t mix.” Do you think that Marji herself believes that? Do you think the women in her family–her mother and grandmother–would agree with the statement?

Although Marji’s father is more sensitive to the plight of women than other males in Iran, he is unfortunately unable to understand fully the oppressive weight Iran’s post-revolutionary regime had on the women in his life. Unlike Marji, her mother, and grandmother, he was not forced to wear a veil all the time, and he did not have to endure the constant objectification that Marji, her grandmother, and her mother did.

This puts him in a unique position to view the changes in national politics more objectively than his wife, mother, and daughter. While he lost several loved ones to the political changes that swept through Iran, Marji’s father rarely lets down the façade he has erected to protect his emotions.

Infrequently, the reader does see a more emotional side to him, such as his panic after being pulled over under suspicion of drinking or when he tells his good-byes to Marji before she departs for Austria. This is not to say that Marji’s father is cold; in reality, he cares for his family very deeply, but he wears a veil of his own to hide his emotions.

Marji, on the other hand, must mix sentiment and politics to overcome the obstacles placed before her. After her parents send her to Austria (effectively emancipating her from the difficulties she would otherwise face in Iran), she cannot escape the love she has for her homeland and family, and instead decides to return to Iran and endure the harsh treatment given to her.

When she meets an Iranian man whom she loves, she must bow to the government’s laws and marry him in order to spend time with him in public without fear of shame. Doing such then puts her in an unloving marriage later, over which she weeps before her grandmother explains why it is that she is crying. Marji’s love in its various forms (love of family, love of country, etc.) allows her to overcome many of the obstacles placed before her.

Marji’s mother and grandmother would also disagree with Marji’s father. For instance, Marji’s mother suffered great shame after she was accosted by two men who chastised her and made lewd comments to her for not wearing a veil. She also reacts passionately to another man who reprimands her for the way she wore her veil. These moments suggest that Marji’s mother believes that sentiment is the only way to endure the negative sides of a harsh political regime.

Marji’s grandmother is a bit closer to Marji’s father in her behavior but would still consider the mixture of politics and sentiment as one of the only modes of survival during such a bleak time. When she informs Marji that she too had been divorced, she does so with little emotion, but the fact that she went through with the divorce shows that she also considers the weight of sentiment over the weight of politics.

In a culture like post-revolutionary Iran, sentiment is the only means of survival in such a harsh political landscape.