Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Embroideries


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.


13 comments:

savidgereads said...

I saw the film Persepolis and have meant to read her work ever since and havent. This sounds like another wonderful book of Satrapi's and I wonder if my library has any of them, would like to actually read some graphic novels this year!

Nymeth said...

I wish this had been twice as long too. I so enjoyed the humour, and also the fact that there was much more to it than just humour. Fantastic review Claire :)

Amanda said...

I really enjoyed this and wish there had been so much more.

Kals said...

I've not read graphic novels till now, but this book looks like a good place to start! Thanks for the review :)

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I have had the film for several months but still haven't watched it. Your library will probably have Persepolis at least, as it has a heightened profile due to the film. Let me know if you'd like to borrow Embroideries - it's so short that you'd probably finish it on the way home from book group!

Ana, it was definitely more than just amusing and entertaining.

Amanda, if only it had been twice as long.

Kals, I think this would make a lovely place to start! Satrapi is very accessible.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I found a lot of Persepolis dry in places too. It was good enough for me to try more of her work though and you make this one sound really interesting. I'll keep an eye out for a copy.

Rebecca Reid said...

sounds very good except for everyone's comment that it's too short! That's a good thing -- a book that makes you want for more. Perfect for the Woman Unbound challenge!

Vivienne said...

I have just started reading Persepolis and was surprise dot find the humour in such a serious subject.

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, it is interesting and I hope you find a copy and enjoy it.

Rebecca, satisfying and yet also unsatisfying! I definitely wanted more. Perfect indeed for Women Unbound and not reading simply to complete a challenge.

Vivienne, Satrapi successfully achieves that in this one too and I enjoyed how the serious issues were presented with humour without detracting from their severity. Enjoy Persepolis.

Aarti said...

Wow, this seems to be a popular one! I haven't read any of Satrapi's books, though I saw the Persepolis movie. Eventually will have to read and SEE her books, too!

Paperback Reader said...

Aarti, it's certainly been popular for Women Unbound! I definitely recommend them; the artwork is so visually accessible and adds to the enjoyment and appreciation.

verity said...

I still have yet to read Persepolis, but I think I'd like to read this a bit more as I've seen the Persepolis film. Graphic novels - something I should try to encounter in 2010 I think.

Paperback Reader said...

I think you'd enjoy some graphic novels, Verity! Definitely go for Fun Home; I remember you commenting that it interested you. This was more enjoyable than Persepolis but I think that the latter is an important text/film for the education it gives.