Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is an exemplary autobiographical graphic novel, in the tradition of Art Spiegelman’s classic Maus. Set in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, it follows the young Satrapi, six-year-old daughter of two committed and well-to-do Marxists. As she grows up, she witnesses first-hand the effects that the revolution and the war with Iraq have on her home, family and school.
Like Maus, the main strength of Persepolis is its ability to make the political personal. Told through the eyes of a child (as reflected in Satrapi’s simplistic yet expressive black-and-white artwork), the story shows how young Marjane learns about her family history and how it is entwined with the history of Iran, and watches her liberal parents cope with a fundamentalist regime that gets increasingly rigid as it gains more power. Outspoken and intelligent, Marjane chafes at Iran’s increasingly conservative interpretation of Islamic law, especially as she grows into a bright and independent teenager. Throughout, Marjane remains a hugely likeable young woman
Persepolis gives the reader a snapshot of daily life in a country struggling with an internal cultural revolution and a bloody war, but within an intensely personal context. It’s a very human history, beautifully and sympathetically told.
Chosen by my book group I can honestly say it is not a book I would have gone anywhere near otherwise. My first experience of a graphic novel, this has been an interesting reading experience for me but probably one I am unlikely to repeat. As a reader I love language – I love description and clever wordsmithery (not sure if that’s not a real word?) I like blocks of text. None of those things are really present in a graphic novel. I found the size of the print a big problem for me with my poor eyesight too. I actually gave myself quite a headache while reading it.
So as a graphic novel virgin – I’m not sure I am qualified to write a decent review, as it is a different medium, and an art form that I have no previous experience of so all I can do is recount my reactions to it.
This book is the complete Persepolis – the story of a childhood and the story of a return, which was originally published as two volumes.
Marjane comes across strongly as an intelligent feisty young girl/woman who becomes really quite politicised; with a rebellious streak. From a fairly young age she is forced to become all too aware of the things that are happening in her country. She is the daughter of outspoken Marxists, the great-granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor. The story re-creates the everyday life of Marjane’s family, after the fall of the Shah and during the rise of the fundamentalist regime. Marjane is instantly a character that is easy to identify with she is adored by her parents and has a touchingly close relationship with her parents and grandmother. She quickly learns to separate her public and private self, but she also learns to rebel in small ways – and her parents begin to fear for her rebellious nature. At 14 Marjane is sent to Austria – where she must learn a greater independence away from her parents. The second part then relates Marjane’s four years in Austria, her confusion over who she is and her later return to Iran when is 18.
I was surprised at how this graphic style manages to covey the emotions and upheavals of Marjane as she grows up. The simple stark black and white images are powerful, perfectly conveying the fear, tension and rigidity of the regime.
I found Marjane’s story compelling and a fascinating insight into the Iranian way of life. However I didn’t enjoy the process of reading this – the print was too small for to read comfortably and I missed prose. I did feel though that I liked Marjane enormously and think she is very brave – her book is marvelously honest and for that alone she should be commended. It was an interesting book to read though for many other reasons, I learned a lot about Iran for a start – and I am glad I have had the chance to read something I would never have picked up if not for my book group. I am looking forward to the discussion of it on Wednesday evening.
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On a wild and stormy night Molly runs away from her grandparent’s house. Her dad has sent her to live there until he Sorts Thing Out at home. In the howling darkness, Molly sees a desperate figure running for his life from a terrifying midnight hunt. He has come to help her. But why? And who is he? SEASON OF SECRETS weaves the tale of a heartbroken child and an age-old legend into a haunting story of love, healing and strange magic.
This was the latest of our book group selections. Certainly it’s not a book I would have picked otherwise. It was presented to us as a YA book, it isn’t – it is a children’s book, an older children’s book perhaps but a children’s book nonetheless. Nothing wrong with children’s books of course, nothing wrong with adults reading them. I think I just struggle reviewing things for which I am not the target audience.
Having said that I thought it was an enjoyable little read. Well written with a sympathetic narrative voice in the recently bereaved Molly. ‘Season of secrets’ weaves the magical myths which surround ancient tales of The Green Man, with the changing seasons and the grief anger and vulnerability of two young girls who having lost their mother, have been sent away by their father.
I read this in a few hours today (either side of an exhaustive massive shopping trip) and found it a charming easy to curl up with read on an appropriately rainy/blustery day. I am sure a 12/13 year old girl would love this slightly sad family drama with a hint of magic.
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I first read this in 2006, re-read now as it was my choice for my book group’s November read.
Maps for Lost Lovers is a stunningly brave and searingly brutal novel charting a year in the life of a working class community from the subcontinent–a group described by author Nadeem Aslam as “Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian and Sri Lankans living in a northern town”. The older residents, who have left their homelands for the riches of England, have communally dubbed it Dasht-e-Tanhaii, which roughly translates as “the wilderness of solitude” or “the desert of loneliness”. As the seasons change, from the first crystal flakes of snow that melt into “a monsoon raindrop”, we slowly learn the fate of Jugnu and Chanda, a couple whose disappearance is rumoured to have been a result of their fatal decision to live in sin in a community where the phrase holds true meaning.
I liked this novel just as much as I did the first time, although you can never recapture that first impact a wonderful novel has for you as a reader.
The opening sequence of the novel – Shamas standing in the doorway in the snow had stayed powerfully with me. This is a beautifully written novel, evocative and bravely honest. Some of the characters strain against their religious and cultural ties, others find strength in those traditional ways and beliefs.The stories of the people in this novel are generally sad, there is little reason to hope for the future (something I felt very much with Aslam’s third novel A Wasted Vigil too). Lives are restricted because of strict religious or moral codes, a fear of “what people will think/say” is constant. Kaukab counting on the fingers of one hand the number of white people she has spoken to. Her constant misunderstandings with her children, her life so desperately sad.
Nothing is an accident: it’s always someone’s fault; perhaps-but no one teaches us how to live with our mistakes. Everyone is isolated, alone with his or her anguish and guilt, and too penetrating a question can mean people are not able to face one another the next day.”
There is a feeling of tension throughout – the tension of a community where everyone knows who is who, and gossip is rife, and a life can be destroyed simply by been seen talking to someone in the street. This is a story of love in it’s many guises, of loss, bigotry and injustice.
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Read for my book group.
From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.
A collection of dark, adult, re-told fairy tales. Not my usual kind of reading really, but I was strangely fascinated by these stories, and came to appreciate the excellent writing of an author I have not read before. I am not sure I exactly enjoyed all the stories however, although some I did very much. The stories are sexual, sensual and dark, one – Puss in boots rather farcical, there is depravity and cruelty as well as some beautiful imagery in the descriptions of nature. One of the recurring themes is loss of innocence, and Carter has blended the traditions of mythology and fairy tales with nature to explore the sexual awakenings and strength of young women. My personal favourites from the collection: The Bloody Chamber, The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Company of Wolves.
I am looking forward to hearing what other people in the book group thought.
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Read for my book group.
Read on kindle
From the Back Cover
1913: Suffragette throws herself under the King's horse
1970: Feminists storm Miss World
Now: Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunach from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller
There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain…
Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?
Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be A Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, Topshop, motherhood and beyond.
If it hadn't been for the fact that this was chosen by someone at my book group, I would never have read it. I knew it wasn't my kind of book. I am quite prepared to be wrong about a book, I have been before. However I wasn't wrong, I didn't like this at all.
Firstly, I'm sure this can't really be described as a work of feminism – which is how it has been touted – talking about sex and saying c*nt a lot doesn't make one a feminist! (However I would also agree that most of us women these days are feminists to some degree or other) That is not to say that Moran doesn't raise some interesting points – she does, and many of them I would agree with – however these were no great revelations for me – I knew already I thought these things. Also a few quotes from Germaine Greer hardly makes for a great work on feminism either – there have after all been others along the way.
This is mainly a rant, Caitlin Moran rants about things that get her goat – which she is quite entitled to do. Her style is very witty – and I suspect she is very pleased with this style – I however found it rather trite, it got a bit much after a while. It did seem as if for many things Moran has no grey areas, things are either marvelous or terrible – well for me, there are sometimes shades of grey to be considered.
Parts of Moran's memoir – the story of her upbringing, her pregnancies and marriage are quite entertaining and interesting, however I felt the book was quite lightweight and was often irritated by things I suspect may be exaggerations.
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Read for book group discussion.
Nevin Nollop left the islanders of Nollop with the treasured legacy of his pangram "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". But as the
letters begin to crumble on the monumental inscription, the island's council forbids the use of the lost letters and silence threatens Ella
and her family.
I approached this book, thinking I wouldn't like it, that the novel would be contrived and that it wasn't my sort of thing. Well I enjoyed it immensely.
On the Island of Nollop, when letters begin to drop off the monument of Nevin Nollop's famous pangram, the Island council forbids the use of each letter as it falls, in writing or speech. Anyone breaking the new rules is punished – the third transgression leading to expulsion from the island, or death at refusing to leave. The novel is told in letters between various Island people, with Ella and her family at the centre of the story. The islanders are a people who have until now used language beautifully, speaking and writing in what could be seen as a slightly formal, and flowery style. Few telephones on the island means that people write letters a lot.
This a very clever book, the use of language is brilliant, it is in fact a celebration of language. I am in awe of the inventiveness and inspired use of language as certain letters drop out of use. The final few epistles are difficult to read, as people resort to writing phonetically so as not to breech the law. Although this is a celebration of language, it is also a biting satire – on extremism. There is a darker undercurrent, as characters in the novel begin to suffer the punishments of the new regime.
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Charlie is a freshman. And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. I only bought and read this book as it was picked by my book group as our July read. I can't say I was really looking forward to it as I didn't think it was my sort of book. In all honesty – it isn't my kind of book – but that is not to say its not a good or well written novel, just not one I can get excited about. I have read many 5 star reviews of it however so maybe the fact I wasn't blown away says more about me than the book. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming of age novel about 15 year Charlie – as he begins life at high school. Charlie is very intelligent but socially awkward, he cries a lot and doesn't always understand the world around him, but he is learning fast. The novel is written in a series of letters to an unnamed stranger – as Charlie picks his way through the minefield that is adolescence – and tries to come to terms with the deaths of his friend Michael and his Aunt Helen. I suspect that had I been 23, not 43 when I read this novel – it would have resonated more powerfully. However I think that although Charlie's "voice" is distinct, clear and authentic, it was not a voice I particularly enjoyed having in my head. For me The Perks of Being a Wallflower only served to remind me how absolutely vile it can be to be a teenager – and how glad I am that I am in my forties.
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Book club read
Following his doctor’s instructions, engaging simpleton Charlie Gordon tells his own story in a semi-literate "progris riports". He dimly wants to better himself but with an IQ of 68 can’t even beat the laboratory mouse Algernon at maze-solving:
I dint feel bad because I watched Algernon and I lernd how to finish the amaze even if it takes me along time.
I dint know mice were so smart.
Algernon is extra-clever thanks to an experimental brain operation so far tried only on animals. Charlie eagerly volunteers as the first human subject. After frustrating delays and agonies of concentration, the effects begin to show and the reports steadily improve: "Punctuation, is fun!" But getting smarter brings cruel shocks, as Charlie realises that his merry "friends" at the bakery where he sweeps the floor have all along been laughing at him, never with him. The IQ rise continues, taking him steadily past the human average to genius level and beyond, until he’s as intellectually alone as the old, foolish Charlie ever was–and now painfully aware of it. Then, ominously, the smart mouse Algernon begins to deteriorate …
I previously read this fantastic book about 5 years ago. However it was picked as the first read of a new book group that I have joined. I was actually glad to have the chance to re-read it. The story of the scientific experimentation – is as current now as it was when it was first written. It hasn’t really dated at all. Also the question: at what point is Charlie better off? – is what happens to him worth it? is for the reader a constant presence. As Charlie increases in intelligence – the language, spelling and punctuation of his progress reports change too – such a clever way to write, and the strong authentic voice of Charlie is unforgettable. Socially inexperienced the new Charlie makes mistakes, and finds himself haunted by the figure of the old Charlie – watching silently from a corner. Charlie’s awakening is poignant and fascinating – he starts to understand his past a bit more, the way the world operates around him, and begins to question parts of the scientific work that he has been a part of.
An enormously readable novel, that will be enjoyed by people, who, don’t usually "do" SF.
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