erasing clouds

Marjane Satrapi's Embroideries

book review by anna battista

Satrapi’s Persepolis and Persepolis 2 employed the graphic novel medium to recount the life of the author, from her childhood in Tehran, Iran, to her bohemian years in Europe and her return to her home country. Leaving behind the life portrayed in those pages, her adolescent obsessions and first boyfriends, Marjane Satrapi's new graphic memoir explores the universe of women. In Embroideries, a group of female relatives and friends - Satrapi's grandmother, her mother, an eccentric aunt, their neighbours and the author herself, - gathers after lunch, while the men of the house are away for a nap, to tell each other tales of love, pleasure and sex.

The dominant character is the grandmother, a highly independent woman, bad tempered in the morning, sweet and caring after her morning tea spiced up with a bit of opium. "To speak behind others' back is a ventilation of the heart," she says at the beginning of the book and, after her statement, the confessions start. The women share secrets and tales about how to fake your virginity and the “full embroidery” operation (in which a woman’s vagina is sewn to restore her virginity); how to escape an arranged marriage; which are the advantages of being a mistress and of having plastic surgery; why the penis is not as aesthetically good looking as the vagina.

The narration goes from one woman to another: in grandmother's story, she helps her friend who is arranged to marry one man, but is in love with another and has lost her virginity to the latter; Marjane recounts of the white magic a friend practices on her boyfriend to convince him to marry her despite his mother's wishes; Aunt Parvine, the artist of the group, tells about how she escaped, at the age of 13, her arranged marriage to an old man, by scaling a garden wall and hiding out with her aunt until he died; family friend Amineh remembers how her husband was forced to leave the country a short time after their wedding, after the Shah returned to power. But when she joined him in Berlin months later, she realised he was betraying her with other women.

The style used in Embroideries mirrors in a way the content: Satrapi breaks from the traditional frame-by-frame structure and draws in most of the pages only a character or two, concentrating on the stories they are telling. Her drawings pull the readers into this circle of women and make them feel part of their chat.

Embroideries is a witty, entertaining, powerful and humorous celebration of Iranian women, but also of women in general: women emerge from Satrapi’s graphic novel as strong, clever and in control. Join this session of “ventilation of the heart”, you won’t regret it.


this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds