Lost in Translation #1 - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Hello everyone !

I am going to start the Lost in Translation meme today (actually, this is the second time I'm starting it since my first article erased itself mysteriously yesterday, the little bugger).

The LiT meme, hosted here, will appeal to the international reader in you to discover foreign books and even encourage you to read some books in their original language !

I will be presenting French and Italian authors and books since I speak those two languages. The whole thing is rather more sophisticated than I first imagined: the three first books on which I wanted to write an article were translated but not available in bookshops or online. Which is a bummer really, because the books were awesome.

Anyways! Since I like living dangerously (hey, I drink up to 5 cups of tea a day, clearly I know no fear), I will be writing a French LiT post during the first 15 days of the month and an Italian LiT post in the second half of the month. Other bloggers can join in whenever they want and adapt the meme to any other languages.

The meme has a few (logical) rules :
-Check the translation of the book and specify it in the article
-Check the availability of the book depending on territories and bookstores/libraries/online and specify it in the article
-It would also be nice to make a parenthesis on the level required to read the book in its original language
-And finally, Enjoy and Spread the love ! 

I am starting the meme with a French LiT post on one of the most talented and original graphic novel artist France has known and my personal favorite

by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French artist that has published (in French) a 4 volume autobiographical graphic novel called Persepolis. I won't be telling you her biography, because, clearly, that would be a spoiler for the autobiographical graphic novels ! Persepolis was adapted on the big screen by Marjane herself and Vincent Parronnaud. The film got the Special Jury Prize in 2007 from the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated in 2008 for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Even if you are not a graphic novel fan, I can guarantee you will love Persepolis. This book tells you the cool and rebellious story you always wished you had. This book is about growing up in the most difficult setting there is: Iran in the 1980s. I would give you a little history of the events, but I think Marjane teaches you about the history and the politics of Iran way better than anyone ever will !

This book not only makes you learn what happened in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but it also shows you how people reacted to the new regime.
One of the most important aspect of the book is for me the various strong female figures. There is obviously the funny and unique Marjane who wants to become a Prophet when she grows up. There is her mother who is, with her father, very politicised against the Islamist regime. And finally Marjane's incredible grandmother, who wears jasmine flowers in her shirts and gives Marjane advices she will live up to. You will see, that being a woman in one of the hardest societies in the world isn't about giving up.

The book is not only incredibly interesting, it is thoroughly entertaining because there is always humour, even in the darkest parts of the story. Reading these books, you will see the story of one of the most ancient civilisations unfold beneath your eyes, you will see this society evolve from one of the most modern societies of the regions to one of the most traditional in a few years, you will see people fighting for their very right to live. 

As you can see, the entire book is in black and white (though the animation film is in color), and even though the style is very sober, it is an actual choice: the graphic novel is mainly centred on the story and the characters rather than on the drawing in itself. Don't get me wrong, you do feel the lyrical aspect some pages take. It echoes in the meaning of the story where Marjane is caught between the Iranian tradition and her attraction towards modernity, and where she is an Iranian in Europe and a European in Iran.

On a more general note, this style (including the black and white graphics) is typical of the Alternative comics/graphic novels movement which has started worldwide in the 1980s. Marjane Satrapi, together with a new wave of French graphic novel artists, are published from the 1990s by L'Association (literally, the Association) who is renowned worldwide for the originality and diversity of its authors. L'Association has a rigorously artist-centred approach in terms of its productions: they are against the fanzines and create various types of graphic novels which tend to look more like novels than comics. They have different collections which have themselves their own characteristics. L'Association gained momentum in mainstream literature in France and worldwide through commercial and critical success of, among others, Persepolis.

Language corner:
For the adventurous part of you *especially those wearing the Indiana Jones hat*, this is the ideal type of book to read in its original version. If you have studied French for a few years and would like to improve your level, graphic novels are the best way, since the language is generally quite simple and goes straight to the point without getting lost in never-ending descriptions, and the images can help you interpret some words you don't understand.

Did I mention I love this book ? Since you obviously fell in love with this book too and can't wait to read it (and since I am, all in all, a very nice person), I'll give you some tips on where to find it:

Getting the book:
- Online: Amazon (.com and .co.uk)
- Bookstores UK: I saw it in Waterstones
- Bookstores US: Barnes and Nobles
- Online: French Amazon (in French), the megastore Fnac (in French)
- Bookstores UK: list and info here
- Bookstores US: list and info here
Note: The UK and US version have 2 volumes or one, not 4.

All the illustrations present in this post were made by Marjane Satrapi and are part of Persepolis.

To take part in the meme :
- Write your name
- The name of your blog
- In parenthesis if it is the first or second time you participate
- In parenthesis which language it is
- Link to the LiT post, not your blog !

Exemple: Caroline @ Portrait of a Woman (1, French)

If what you post doesn't look like that, I will retaliate. Live in fear.


  1. This was the book for the "One Book, One City" campaign in Philadelphia. Graphic novels don't interest me, but I've heard a lot of great things about this one.

  2. This one is amazing, it is a very different type of graphic novels. I prefer it to the overcrowded style of other comics.
    Plus the story is relly interesting and funny !

  3. WOW Caroline, I am *so impressed* with this meme. Seriously. I am sitting here thinking, "how did Caroline become such a genius?" I honestly, whole-heartedly, wish I could participate. Never before have I despised being just an English speaker this much! But I will definitely be keeping track of all your LiT posts. You've already sold me on Persepolis and I look forward to getting my hands on a copy! Thank you Caroline!

  4. Awww Kris, thank you so much !
    I won't even comment on the fact that you never thought I was a genius before ;-)
    Seriously I love these books, and this is why I want to continue this meme, because when I say you people are missing out on amazing things, I really mean it !!
    If you do review on Persepolis, don't hesitate to talk about the meme, so that more people get interested to join !

  5. I'd love to read this book. I heard about it before, and I thought is was very interesting. But I read you review and now I know its a book I would enjoy very much. I just read this sentence "being a woman in one of the hardest societies in the world isn't about giving up" and I fell in love xD.

    Besides, I like the illustrations. I think black and white fits perfectly for this kind of story.

    Since I don't speak French, I would have to read it in English.

    Thanks for the review :)

  6. Wow! Thanks so much for your comment Gaby !!
    It makes me want to continue this meme !

    I hope you'll be able to join in to share the Latin American writers with us !

    Thanks for passing by !

  7. What a lovely idea Caroline! I laughed out loud at your "little bugger" phrase. It was so cool to meet you and then read this. I have recently been given a book to review that is a translation so when I do post it I will be sure to make it part of your meme. There are definitely not enough translations for teens from other languages so I'm hoping I can learn a lot from you.

  8. Thank you so much for introducing me to your review :) I'm curious, have you read the English version? And if you have, did you feel it became "lost in translation"? My knowledge of french is supremely basic, so I doubt I would be able to figure most of the stuff out, but from the way you talk about it I might try.

    I'm really glad you like the novel, and I agree about the "being a woman in one of the hardest societies in the world isn't about giving up."

    again, this was a great review, thanks for writing it. I'm really happy you enjoyed this book more than i did!