When I read The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi a couple of years ago, I found it illuminating and a good access point into the form of graphic novels but I didn't fully enjoy it and found parts dry. However, this didn't discourage me from seeking out Embroideries when I learned that it was also a memoir about women's issues; as my graphic novel experience is still slight, I was excited to read one that dealt with a subject that I am most interested in as well as making a non-fiction contribution towards my Women Unbound challenge reading.
One of the things that I did enjoy about Persepolis was Satrapi's art and that is continued in Embroideries so I felt that it was almost one continuous story set in the same policed world albeit with a far less dry installment. I thoroughly enjoyed Embroideries and its insights into the lives of multi-generational women in Iran. Marjane and her family members gather with friends and neighbours for an afternoon samovar, the function of which was discussion; although the afternoon of tea and chat is translated as "discussion" I think it is more literally "gossip", or as Marjane's grandmother describes it, "To speak behind others' backs is the ventilator of the heart." I love that image and it is one continued later, where one of the neighbours is crying and another says "let her air out her heart. There's nothing better than talking". I respond well to female company, to good chats over tea or coffee and find it often immeasurably cathartic, illuminating or plain entertaining and Embroideries is all of these things. The discussions often involve sex and the experiences of the women discussing it; some have had horrible experiences with marriage and men and others entertaining ones or the women are recounting stories of women they know. From the childhood friend who razor-bladed her husband's testicle on their wedding night in an attempt to recreate the loss of her virginity (already lost) to the married woman who had never seen a penis or knew what the "white stuff" was that another story referred to, the discussions that take place around tea are highly amusing. Not all the stories are entertainingly shocking or amusing, however, but all deal with women's issues and the positions of women being forced to married the wrong man, the lengths they will go to keep a man, the steps taken to leave a man, in a culture that value men over these courageous, intelligent, witty women.
Some of the women who surround Marjane are strong and subversive, resilient and positive role models for a young woman and I am not surprised that Satrapi chose to write about them. I was entertained whilst being given insight into a cultural tradition that, albeit not very different in nature from Western women meeting up for coffee, is conducted behind closed doors. The stories recounted are rich in humour and experience and my only complaint is that Embroideries was so slight as I could happily have read something longer and more substantial, rather than barely a glimpse.