Monday, June 15, 2009

Persepolis

In 1999 in the basement of a mosque in Cairo I was a little surprised to find the tomb of the last Shah of Iran. There were no other tourists, no pilgrims, no angry vandals - the Shah had been forgotten about. It was a little bit like this today too with the election in Iran. If you have been following the events taking place in Tehran then you probably haven't been watching BBC World, CNN, MSNBC or, God save us, Fox. MSNBC has been telling us about America's toughest prisons, the BBC seems obssessed by Ronaldo, CNN loves the story of the pretty American girl in Italy accused of murder and Fox believes the biggest challenge facing the globe is how Miss California can get her title back. I suspect the news divisions of these networks go to their holiday homes on Saturday and Sunday, because my read of the situation in Iran is that something pretty extraordinary happened over the weekend. Was an election stolen? Was there a military coup? I don't really know but it certainly merits further investigation. I do know that there is an entire generation of sophisticated, intelligent, disillusioned Iranians out there and I know this because of two brilliant books: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
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Both books are memoirs by women who grew up in post Revolution Iran. Reading Lolita is a very interesting attempt to carve out a cultural identity in an extremely oppressive environment. Persepolis is an account of a girl's migration from Iran to France told in comic book form. Persepolis is a little better known than Lolita because it was turned into a film in 2007 - the film's not bad but I still prefer the book, which is haunting, moving and beautiful and one of the best things I read in 2006. If you want an inkling of what might be happening on the streets of Tehran at the moment switch off "America's Toughest Prisons" and have a gander at either of these two wonderful books instead.