“Persepolis” author Marjane Satrapi speaks at Century College


“‘The evil’ one day is Communists, one day it’s Khomeini, one day it’s Saddam,” Marjane Satrapi told an audience of over 800 people at Century College in White Bear Lake last Thursday night. “In 1984, Iran was ‘the evil.’ Now we are just part of ‘the Axis of the Evil,'” she quipped, “so the situation is very much improving for us.”

Satrapi’s acclaimed two-volume comic Persepolis recounts Satrapi’s youth in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, as well as her troubled adolescence in Europe—an adolescence marked by loud music, strange friends, homelessness, and heartbreak.

Century invited Satrapi to speak because the college made Persepolis their common text this year. “Almost all of the instructors tried to integrate the book into their curriculum somehow,” said Nancy Livingston, Century’s director of community relations. “Students like the book a lot,” said Larry Litecky, president of Century, “and we have hundreds of students reading the book in conjunction with their classes.”

Satrapi has published three other books in English since the second of the two Persepolis books was released here in 2004, but the Persepolis books remain by far her best-known. An award-winning film based on Persepolis came out last year. After spending over a year on a hectic promotion schedule for the film, Satrapi is now on a 14-city speaking tour in which she is addressing her work in general. “It came to the point where I felt completely empty,” Satrapi told an audience member who asked about her future projects. “There was my movie, based on my book, based on my life. It was a lot of me, and me, and me. So right now, my soul is very poor. So what that means [for me now] is to read a lot, is to watch a lot, is to travel. I have to make myself full. There are a lot of things that I want to do, but I’m not in a hurry.”

Dozens of people waited after the talk in a line winding out of the auditorium to have their books signed. Among them were two Century students, Deshonna Wallace and Sarai Watkins, who are reading Persepolis for their English 1000 class. “We wanted to see what [Satrapi was] about,” Wallace said. “I like a person that is outspoken and straight to the point, so I definitely admired that about her.”

Shona Ramchandani, a graduate student at Hamline, asked Satrapi during the Q&A about the author’s current relationship with Iran; not just in terms of whether the author goes back or not, but also her ongoing emotional relationship with her home country. “As an international student it’s relevant to me,” Ramchandani said in the lobby after the talk. “I have the feeling of choosing where I am, but never being able to leave where I was coming from.”

“[Considering] all of the disappointments in our life, it’s rather normal to become cynical,” Satrapi said. “But if despite everything, on the last day of my life if I can still keep a couple of stars shining in my eyes, then I can say that I have made something out of my life.”

Daily Planet contributor Jason Ericson (jasondericson@gmail.com) lives in Minneapolis.