Thursday, 16 July 2015

Book Review - Marjane Satrapi - "Persepolis" and "Infidel" - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A remarkable work by anyone's standards. 

This memoir, given voice by the creative hand of the author, reveals a perspective that we all should be aware of especially in the complacent West. Few people have had to live through such exacting, arduous  times as Marjane Satrapi.  

Born an Iranian of middle-class parents her story, told from her childhood and through to her twenties, takes into account the awful times Iran went through during both the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. 

It would have been easy to show Islam as being the monster in Satrapi's life, and although at times that faith is shown as being culpable it is not the faith itself that is flawed but the men and women who so strictly adhered and administered their take on it that stand accused of such vile acts. 

Satrapi could have let her hurt and anger spill into a finger-pointing accusation but with masterful  ability mixed with delightful humour she manages to get her story across without judging those who caused such disruption to the lives of so many. Both laugh out loud and incredibly moving at times, this graphic novel has it all. 

Satrapi is as naturally gifted to this sub-genre as Eisner, Sasco or Spiegelman.  Her art is childlike, crude at times , perhaps unsophisticated might be a better description. She doesn't use the classic 'pure comic' approach of having the narrative told and depicted by the images alone but puts captions to good  use. 

This is a classic and should be more widely read.

"Infidel" is a book that left me feeling that I haven't lived, that for all my moans and whinges, I have suffered little compared to this woman. 

One of the so-called horsemen of New Atheism, her voice adds a female quality, a sense of perspective that was missing before but also highlights how foul a concept religion is and how better off we all would be without it. She shares her experiences, some rather harrowing, with brutal honesty. Her story reveals fundamentalist Islam as being a vile, man-made aberration of faith; corrupt and dictatorial, cruel and uncaring and totally perverse.

She does not point the finger of blame at those with faith but rather at the men who organise and manipulate those they seek to subdue. Having said that she does not shy away from some horrible truths. It was her own Grandmother who circumcised her, who sewed her vagina to the smallest of holes and not her father who, absent far too long due to his political leanings and his philandering ways, was a progressive and liberal Muslim. 

At the end of the day, she tells us what we already know but does it by drawing on her own experience. Religion is at worst evil at best misguided. As she herself says - 'Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice' and we all have for far too long tolerated monotheism. This book, this author hammers home the fact that religion has had its day and that it is high time it faded from the world and was consigned to the pages of history along with the bubonic plague which it resembles. 

There are some splashes of humour scattered sparingly...seeing a white man for the first time and thinking the sun had burnt his skin off...meeting westerners in Holland with their infidel ways but by and large this is a book about struggle. 

The thing that I liked best is that Ayaan manages to demonstrate how someone from the third world, poorly educated but with such a sponge-like brain, is able to not only challenge the stricter forms of Islam, confront if head on but also manages to educate herself against all odds. I shall never again complain about my poor education. She puts me to shame.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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