by Marjane Satrapi
(2003; Pantheon, 2005)
As with her previous books, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, writer and graphic artist Marjane Satrapi lifts the veil on life for women in Iran in her latest book, Embroideries.
While not purely autobiographical, Satrapi's focus on sex and marriage as the women of her grandmother's circle gather and talk over tea is as keenly humorous, clever and revelatory -- and beautifully drawn -- as anything she has yet written to date.
As the women gather, family and friends alike, to talk and sip tea after lunch while the men have their nap, they exchange stories of first loves, wedding night fiascos, deceitful husbands and so on in a rich, varied offering that opens a window on the sex lives of women in Iran. The word "embroidery" itself is a euphemism for a woman's virginity, or rather, the sort of virginity that can be surgically reclaimed (with thread and needle, hence the word). Virginity is the common denominator in all the stories, the possession of it being the key to a woman's virtue and a vital part of a proper marriage in a patriarchal world that hasn't changed very much in thousands of years.
The insanity of outdated beliefs is more neatly illustrated than morally challenged, but Satrapi does not want to moralize. Sometimes the best way to gather information is through the most personal, most in-the-field experience that you can get. Satrapi lets the stories tell themselves, each one of them an element in a delicately woven embroidery of anecdotes about an equally delicate subject matter. She lets the various characters of the women be told through their passionate sex lives and their equally passionate opinions, which, if somewhat polemical, are nonetheless completely understandable given how constrained their lives are.
Satrapi's art is beautiful wedded to her words, her ingenious use of simple, dark lines calling up a rich and complex world full of women dealing with a complete lack of sexual equality, sometimes in very subversive ways. Using the format of images to confront illusions is quite ingenious, and Satrapi's free-flowing, vivid illustrations have the same respect for their subject as Persepolis and Persepolis 2.
The conversation's intimacy comes from its behind-closed-doors feel, adding to the reader's sense of actual participation, which isn't a false perception: we all have stories to tell. Stories that, like theirs, run the gamut of women who find love to those who are divorced, deserted and widowed. Satrapi puts the reader in the room with people it is hard not to feel you know. Explicit, evocative and ultimately very appealing, Embroideries is another masterfully told tale by a master storyteller.
by Mary Harvey