Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Title/Author:  The Complete Persepolis/Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Pantheon 
Pages: 341
ISBN: 978-0-375-71483-2 

My verdict: 4/5

In a nutshell
Persepolis (Persia in Greek) is about the author's life growing up as a child in Iran in the 1970s. Her memoir started from the time when she was 10, living and surviving a troubling time in her country. The Islamic Revolution took place and all females were required to wear veils, a far cry from what she was used to, being educated at a French non-religious school, which was later divided into schools for boys and girls. Jewelry weren't allowed, women must be covered from head to toe, no Western music and so forth. 

Being the only child of outspoken revolutionaries, strict rules like these don't sit well with Marjane. Her rebellious and outspoken nature always put her in danger. She was then sent to live in Austria, hoping there, she could live freely. As it turned out, living there had its humps and bumps too. She found friends, lost some, met a few mr rights, became a drug dealer, a druggie, a waitress, and at times getting herself tangled in challenging situations, even to the point of losing a place to stay. Almost as though God heard her cry for help, she received a call from her parents asking her if she wanted to return home. She knew she must and wanted to desperately.

Home wasn't all that rosy either after spending all those years abroad. She carried so much guilt in her, in that she did nothing in Austria that could make her parents. She became depressed. She attempted suicide and when it failed she decided to take charge of her life. She confronted her fears by staying true to herself which earned her respect from friends who thought alike. She also found what she thought true love at 21, and got married. But things took a different turn, leading to leave for France at 24.

What I enjoyed
I didn't think I'd enjoy a graphic novel this much. Maybe because Marjane had had an interesting childhood. Yes indeed her book is dark, raw and real, at times violent and vulgar, but it is also funny and entertaining. Sealing these elements while making this a thought-provoking read (it makes one question authority, class structures, rules, racism, gender) is a challenge but Marjane succeeded at it. It's a little like watching a Quentin Tarantino's movie (only much less violent and bloody), which combined humor and violence. 

I like how she used humor in her drawings and in bringing her message across. I'm thinking either because she's a funny person or she wanted to use humor to discuss a serious issue, a technique which I find most standup comedians use a lot. 'Every situation offered an opportunity for laughs...' she mentioned in her book. 

My favorite characters are definitely the dad and grandma. When she was young, they encouraged her curious nature, they allowed her to be in the company of adults and 'participate' in their discussions, giving her a deeper and wider perspective of what's going on in their country. I love Marjane too. She's not afraid to be herself and to stand up for her rights. Her rebellious nature gave her a voice, and drew birds of the same feather to her when she was studying overseas.

This is my very first graphic novel and I enjoyed it. It's educational (to me at least) as it is entertaining. Reading it made me realize once again the importance of knowledge and education. Living in ignorance can make one vulnerable to being manipulated by those in power. 

I do wonder though, if the book will have the same effect if it were written without the graphics...

Book Bite
It's a banned in Chicago Public Schools. I still don't get why they banned this book because it contains "graphic language and images." This reason is so laughable. Kids these days can access 'graphic language and images' anywhere on the Internet. This book is such a great source for teachers to encourage discussion; kids can be taught critical thinking, making sound judgments and most importantly, be in the know. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Snow Flower and The Secret Fan by Lisa See

Yep! I am back after a lengthy hiatus! Haha! So here's my first 2014 review :)

My verdict: 4/5

In a nutshell:
This story revolves around the lives of two friends, Lily and Snow Flower, brought together by a matchmaker with a selfish intention. Their friendship, a very unique one in fact, is called Lao tong (same olds), was bound by a contract, which then bloomed into love. Their matchmaker believed that they're perfect for each other because all their BaZi (8 characters) matched. Thus begun a friendship strengthened by messages written in paper fans, in a secret language called nu shu, a unique writing that Chinese women created to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. 

What I enjoyed:
Lisa See had all the elements of a good read in this book. Its main characters were true to themselves, materials were well researched and its plot was a page-turner. I didn't have a favorite character but Lily, the narrator, stood out to me. She was a believer in upholding rules and traditions, and she saw the world in black and white, while Snow Flower was the total opposite. This was a blessing and a curse in their friendship, because it brought them together and almost tore them apart.

The plot thickened when Lily realized how much Snow Flower had been hiding from her all these years. How much can she really trust Snow Flower? Did this Lao tong relationship mean anything to her at all? Or had she been blinded by love? One would not be able to feel all of Lily's emotions - the frustration, confusion and devastation had the character not been developed so brilliantly. I wonder if the tone of the story would be different if it were written from Snow Flower's point of view too.

Lisa See's meticulous research can be seen throughout the entire story. I've learned a lot and I'm deeply fascinated about this foot-binding tradition that existed thousands of years ago. Imagine, the worth of a woman then, was literally bound to her feet! Her toes were crushed and bent towards the heel to achieve a perfect size (7 centimeters) and a beautiful lotus shape, bringing the meaning of 'no pain no gain' to a whole new level. Gosh! Just the mere thought of it makes me cringe! 

Life for a married woman was about fulfilling their duties as a daughter, wife, daughter-in-law in the upstairs chamber where women spent their time together doing their daily chores and/learning new skills like writing nu shu. Nu shu allowed them to share secrets and created a very special and intimate bond between the women. This goes to show communication has always been and will always be the core of survival. No man is an island. We need one another. 

I've never heard of the lao-tong relationship until I read Snow Flower. This relationship started from the moment women's feet were bound till death do them part. Because their lives were confined in the walls of their natal home, the lao tong relationship gave the women an outlet to be themselves, share secrets and a life beyond their upstairs chamber. It's different from a sworn sisterhood which was made out of several girls and ceased at marriage. A lao tong is between two women and it lasts a lifetime. Not every woman is privileged to have a lao tong. I don't have a lao tong, but I have a lao gong, and we're bound by our love for each other and God :)

I absolutely enjoyed reading every page. Thank you for being such a great companion, Snow Flower and The Secret Fan. Till we meet again.

Latest update:
I attended an event called 'An Evening with Lisa See' organized by our local library, and it was fantastic! Lisa See is such a great speaker as she is an author! She is funny, witty and spontaneous. Her vast knowledge on foot binding and nu shu increased my fascination of the two cultures. I can't wait to read her other books!

Thanks again for coming Lisa See!


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