Although we don't intend this to happen, and although our books are chosen each month by different members, we often find our book club reads seem to somehow fall into themes. 2008 was the year of the dysfunctional family (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Evening is the Whole Day), and 2009 seems to be shaping up to be the year of books set in totalitarian regimes!
Last month we tackled our first graphic novel together, Persepolis by Marjane Satrappi, which got a firm thumbs up from every member of the group. The book is a a coming-of-age story with a difference, a memoir recording what it was like to grow up in Tehran in the 1970's and '80s, and live through the Islamic revolution then through the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war.
Despite the bleakness of the setting, it is though the humanity of the book which wins the reader over. Marjane is a very ordinary kid, though precocious and more than a little rebellious, trying to make sense of what is happening around her. Women are forced into wearing headscarves, thousands are arrested, her own uncle is executed.
Marjane is sent overseas by her parents for her own safety after she gets in trouble at school, but she is lonely and vulnerable in Vienna and the usual growing-up pains that all teenagers endure are greatly exacerbated. At one point she's sleeping rough on the streets, on drugs and contemplating suicide. She decides that it is better to live with her family under an oppressive regime than to endure this sense of dislocation, and returns to Iran. More than this I won't reveal as I really hope that if you haven't read the book, you will.
There were many episodes in the book we all really loved including Marjane's conversations with God, who comes and sits on the end of her bed to chat; her portrait of her grandmother, who sleeps with jasmine flowers crushed into her bra so that she will always smell good; and of course the part where her parents risk arrest at the airport to smuggle in a pop poster for her.
There is a film of the books (The Complete Persepolis is actually both parts of the story) and it won a "Prix du Jury" at the Cannes Film Festival :
Our most recent oppressive regime read was Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 set in Stalin's soviet Union. But since this piece is growing longer, and I'm starving to death as I tap at the keyboard, I think I will move to another post to tell you about that one!