New ORI book 'Persepolis' chronicles culture clash

book cover“Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood,” Marjane Satrapi’s illustrated story about coming of age during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, is the SUNY Oswego Reading Initiative selection for campus-wide perusal and related events for 2009-10.

The graphic novel depicts the clash of cultures in a way that communicates on many levels while capturing the reader’s attention, said SUNY Oswego Associate Provost Rameen Mohammadi.

“The story speaks to a young woman living during the revolution in Iran as an 9-year-old and then going to Austria for an education at a very young age, then returning to a changed Iran before going to Europe,” Mohammadi said.

The book relates to Artswego’s Arts Across the Curriculum theme of “Arts, Identity and Diaspora,” looking at the experience of people displaced for any number of reasons.

“The initiative is designed to encourage faculty in a range of disciplines to use the arts as a point of departure to explore diaspora and conditions like war, famine, repression and economic hardship that cause people to move away from their homelands,” said Mary Avrakotos, Artswego coordinator.

The New York Times called “Persepolis” a “delectable” book that “dances with drama and insouciant wit.” The Village Voice described it
as a “powerful” work “rendered in graceful black-and-white comics that apply a childlike sensibility” as it “persuasively communicates confusion and horror through the eyes of a precocious preteen.”

An animated movie version of “Persepolis,” which Satrapi co-directed, earned an Oscar nomination for best animated feature and won a jury prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Similar to how the current ORI choice, Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe,” ties into programs on the environment and climate change, “Persepolis “offers numerous academic and programmatic tie-ins involving history, political science, cultural studies and the arts, Mohammadi said.

“I think it’s of critical importance for students to read stories that are so different from how they were brought up,” Mohammadi said. “For a while, this author returned homeless, sleeping on trains or on street corners. As difficult as it may have been at times as she went through her journey, what came out of it is a very strong woman who speaks to it authentically in a way we haven’t seen before.”

As the first ORI selection in the graphic novel format, “Persepolis” also broaches an increasingly popular art form, Mohammadi added. Genre pioneer Art Spiegelman appeared on campus to a great reception last year.

The community has a kind of preview of the diaspora theme with the Jan. 30 to March 6 exhibition “Contradicting Realities: Recent Work by Sara Rahbar” at SUNY Oswego’s Tyler Art Gallery. Rahbar’s family fled the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and part of the exhibition details her struggles to find an American identity.

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CONTACT: Rameen Mohammadi, 312-2232

(Posted: Jan 21, 2009)