Book review of Woman, Life, Freedom by Marjane Satrapi


Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoirs Persepolis and Persepolis II—and the Oscar-nominated film adapted from the books—tell the story of the author-illustrator’s coming of age in 1980s Iran. Her new work is concerned with the life of another young Iranian woman, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested, detained and severely beaten because some of her hair escaped her headscarf in 2022. Civilian protests erupted in Iran and were quickly taken up elsewhere, the movement’s slogan, “Woman, Life, Freedom,” echoing around the world.

Satrapi’s new graphic anthology, Woman, Life, Freedom, presents the story of the titular movement through short graphic vignettes. The project pairs artists with experts on Iran: Satrapi herself, plus two journalists and an Iranian-born Stanford University professor. These experts composed the words that accompany each of the 23 vignettes, which are divided among three sections that detail Amini’s death and the aftermath; contextualize the events in light of late 20th-century revolutions; and explore everyday life in Iran today, where tensions increasingly show a divide between the ruling party and the people. The vignettes demonstrate the complexity of interactions among residents: State-sanctioned violence, surveillance and propaganda foment confusion and sow mistrust among neighbors. The predominant culture is one of fear.

Some of the graphic illustrations in Woman, Life, Freedom read like political cartoons, while others offer intimate scenes of daily life. The styles reflect the individuality of the creators—swooping, impressionistic, single-color and frameless illustrations exist alongside framed, sequenced, multicolor ones. In all cases, the visual medium enhances the storytelling and creates an immersive reading experience that accessibly communicates information. In my favorite vignettes, such as “In the Heart of the Diaspora,” I felt like I was eavesdropping on conversations that felt both familiar and incredibly complex, much as I felt while reading Persepolis.

Satrapi’s memoirs were widely praised for creating complex images of Iran that probed the subjective, everyday experiences of people living there. She brings the same ability to relate to readers here. She writes in her preface that an aim of the book is to “remind Iranians that they are not alone.” The anthology is being published in many languages for distribution around the world and made freely available online in Persian for Iranian readers. Woman, Life, Freedom offers a look at the human toll of an authoritarian regime, and a people’s heroic, ongoing movement against it.

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