The Graphic Translation of Persepolis

Published on March 29, 2018

By Kali Faulwetter

Persepolis
Published in 2000

“The moment we can laugh together is the moment we understand each other, once we understand each other, we cannot make war with one another.” - Marjane Satrapi, Author of Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi’s first book, Persepolis, is an autobiographical graphic novel about the author’s experience as a young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The English translation first appeared in 2003, done by her spouse, Mattias Ripa.

Satrapi says that the most important thing for her is understanding people; that they are all similar, regardless of country or culture. She adds, “A person laughing or crying means the same thing everywhere in the end.”

  •  Persepolis was not originally written in Farsi, Satrapi’s first language, but in French. She did not write her book for an Iranian audience. Satrapi’s goal was to provide an alternative outlook into Iran for “westerners” who consumed the false and negative media attention given to Iran at that time. When journalists would ask her why she wrote Persepolis, she would answer, “because you didn’t make good your job!” There is no official Persian translation of Persepolis, although Satrapi suspects that someone must have done it by now, but she is “not sure”.

  • “Persepolis” is the Greek name for the capital of Persia. Selling more than 2 million copies worldwide and taught in schools and colleges, the graphic novel is the first of many small books Satrapi has written about her life growing up in Tehran, Iran.

  • Satrapi recalls her childhood, “I read a lot and nothing was forbidden. I read a book about Che Guevara when I was 9 and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights when I was 10. I read Jean Paul Sartre when I was 11 or 12; I didn’t understand all of it.” Enrolled in a Persian/French school since the age of 4, she is no stranger to the multilingual community, although she has never personally translated anything herself. She explains, “From 8 a.m. to noon we learned in Persian, so I was writing from right to left, and from 1 to 5 p.m., we had French so I would write from left to right. Two handwritings and two ways of reading.”

  • Persepolis has been adapted into a film, produced by Marjane Satrapi herself and Vincent Paronnaud. The film has since received many awards, including but not limited to the Special Jury Prize in 2007 from the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated in 2008 for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Set in a modern city ripe with conflict and contradiction, Satrapi plays with notions of alienation, isolation, and displacement in Persepolis. Her goal with the novel is to not only show the flaws of the media in portraying any particular culture, but also to shed light on communication as a way to liberate a person from fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. Satrapi says, “…I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists”.

Many argue that Persepolis is much more complex than bridging trials between East and West; it is a powerful tool showing the impact of translatability of emotions through images, in the same way, that the images from Satrapi’s childhood impacted the novel that made her a cultural and literary phenomenon.


Persepolis in numbers:

Marjane Satrapi speaks Farsi, French, German, English, Swedish, and Italian.


Rank out of 10 from Newsweek- on the list of the Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Books of the Decade.


Number of languages Persepolis has been translated into.


Read Persepolis here.

For more in-depth geographical context for Persepolis, click here.

Read The Asia Society’s interview with Satrapi here.


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Citations: WarwickTheGuardianAsiaSocietyBritannicaBustleToledo