Persepolis, the Movie: A Review

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Persepolis may be the most highly anticipated film in the Iranian community since 300 (and we all know how well that went). The critically acclaimed animated feature, based on the autobiographical comics by Marjane Satrapi, will probably not incite protest when it opens in Los Angeles and New York on Christmas Day this year, though.

I saw the film a couple of weeks ago and I liked it very much. Satrapi’s pretty much a genius and her movie is a beautiful work of art: hand-drawn, with excellent voice work by a very talented cast. She coached each actor separately, acting out all the other parts, and that sort of attention is evident in the performances.

But to hardcore devotees of the book (and I count myself as one), I have to warn you not to expect the best movie of your life. That’s the exact thought I had leaving the theater: “This was really good, but not, as I expected, the movie of my life.” Then I realized, well, that’s probably because it’s the movie of Marjane Satrapi’s life. Duh.

For you this may not be the case, but the same sort of connection I felt reading the books was not replicated for me in watching the film. There are probably a few reasons for this. First, I watched it in a theater full of strangers; obviously reading is solitary, more intimate. Second, there’s the whole classic book-to-movie thing: When you really love a book, it’s always hard for the movie to measure up. I nearly had the Persepolis books memorized, and the movie left out some things I loved and emphasized others I hadn’t noticed as much. It isn’t as funny as the books are, and a lot scarier and more graphic. Ultimately, books turned into movies are almost never as good as the movie you have playing in your head when you read… it’s dorky and obvious but true, and I think it happened for me with this movie. Third, music is a big part of any film, and Persepolis missed the mark: the compositions had an Eastern vagueness about them, and besides an off-key rendition of “Eye of the Tiger,” there wasn’t any other music from the era – the ’70s and ’80s – that I can remember (there’s an awesome Gole Yakh cover on the soundtrack album, though). And finally, on the way out of the theater, I overheard a girl behind me saying, “You guys, why didn’t they just leave Eye-ran when the revolution happened?” That put kind of a damper on the whole thing, so be prepared to correct misperceptions and fill in the inevitable history gaps.

Still, at the end of the day, you should go see Persepolis and you can safely expect it to be spectacular and wonderful. If you’re in San Francisco, you can see it on December 12 and see Marjane Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud (it’s a benefit for the San Francisco Film Society).

Shirin Neshat in the New Yorker

The New Yorker has a piece on Shirin Neshat this week, and there’s a slide show on their website: check it out. The image above is from Neshat’s film “Zarin,” which is based on Shahrnush Parsipur‘s excellent feminist novel, Women Without Men.

Interviews with Young Iranians: Porochista Khakpour, Novelist

Porochista Khakpour

Porochista Khakpour’s Sons and Other Flammable Objects is the first great Iranian-American novel, breathless and overwhelmingly good. Its protagonist, Xerxes Adam, Iranian immigrant and son of Iranian immigrants Darius and Lala (nee Laleh) – whose relationship with his father is broken, who is lost in his vague notions of homeland – awkwardly and uncomfortably grows up in Los Angeles and flees father, mother, culture, all those vague notions of homeland, for college in New York and doesn’t look back, living from temp job to temp job, subsisting on Fruity Pebbles, alone in a crappy apartment in Lower Manhattan. After hearing a particularly harrowing story from his father, business as usual means total estrangement. Then the Twin Towers fall, and Xerxes’ already tenuous notions of self begin to crumble, too.

Maybe it’s because Khakpour is so young (she’s 29) and has lived some of this (though it’s no autobiography nor, thank God, another damn memoir) that she really gets it, what it can feel like to grow up Iranian in America. We asked her some (very long, in retrospect) questions about her book and her writing, and here’s what she had to say. more »

What’s your favorite English-Persian/Persian-English dictionary?

I’ve got a little project going, which involves reading one or two Persian blog posts a day to improve my Persian reading speed and proficiency. Today, I read some Khorshid Khanoom. I understood 99% of the words in her September 30 post, and the ones I didn’t get, I resolved with the Dictionary of Mamanjoonam (aka, my mom). But I need an actual dictionary to take this project to the next level, something I can keep next to my computer or throw in my bag (when I get really ambitious and pick up a good Persian book).

I snooped around some and found Dariush B. Gilani’s English Persian Dictionary on my sister’s bookshelf this afternoon. I really like it because it’s got English transliterations of the Persian alongside the Persian text, like sweet little literacy crutches, but I want something that’s got English-Persian and Persian-English because most of the time I’ll be looking up Persian words for their English meaning. Anyone have any recommendations?

29 Sep 2007, 1:54am
Books & Literature
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Porochista Khakpour’s Sons and Other Flammable Objects

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Finally! A novel about Iranians in America that sounds like it might speak to/for young diaspora Iranians. No offense to all the memoirists and other fiction writers who are putting out quality work… I just think it’s time to work through and then set aside the collective post-revolutionary loss, anger, and sadness and figure out where – and who – we are now.

So, I can’t wait to read this new book: it’s called Sons and Other Flammable Objects, and its author is Porochista Khakpour, who appears to be living my dream life: not only is she a novelist, but she’s smart and pretty, and cool yet approachable. Of course this also makes her fiercely intimidating. Just from reading this really cranky Washington Post review, I think I’m really going to like her book. Everything about it is giving me good vibes, and I’m reminded of how I felt the first time I saw the cover of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. An-ti-ci-pation!

If you have a minute, definitely check out Khakpour’s really funny (and true) story, The 20-Year-Old Virgin, published by nerve.com in 2005. You should probably not read it at work. And by probably not, I mean definitely not, unless your boss is cool with you reading about eyeball-licking when you’re on the clock.

8 Aug 2007, 10:48pm
Books & Literature
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Missing Soluch

Missing Soluch

Iranian writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi is described in one bio as “the most prominent Iranian novelist of the 1980s” and in another as “one of the first Iranian writers of fiction to support himself primarily by writing.” Before he became a writer, he was a stage and film actor in Tehran, where he still lives. Before that, he was a farm hand, shepherd, and construction worker, and was raised in a very poor village. Perhaps that’s why this book, set in a fictional rural village in Iran, is so affecting.

First published in 1979, Dowlatabadi’s novel Missing Soluch was recently translated to English by Kamran Rastegar. It’s a really elegant translation, for which I am most grateful (I read it in English but compared notes with friends who read the Persian). And Dowlatabadi’s spare and nuanced writing is actually quite reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s, his prose simple and his protagonists complicated. The subject matter, too, is very Steinbeckian, as the novel is not short on suffering: it’s the story of a woman who must support herself and her three children when her husband, Soluch, unexpectedly leaves them and the impoverished village in which they live. Like some of Steinbeck’s works, Missing Soluch illustrates the decline of agrarian life in the face of industrialization and can be heartbreaking to read. The novel is full of madness, violence, rape, and loss, and despite the simple language, it’s not an easy read, and it’s more than 500 pages long. But there’s hope and clear tenderness towards these characters, and a look at a rural Iran that is not frequently represented in the landscape of Iranian literature (at least not in the literature that’s available in English). That makes it worthy of any reading list.

View from Iran, View from Here

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Esther and Keivan, the once-pseudonymous couple behind the blog View from Iran, are now living outside Iran and have just revealed their offline identities. Esther is Tori Egherman and Keivan is Kamran Ashtary; together they’ve published a book of photos and essays, Iran: View from Here, which can be previewed on their site. It looks fascinating and frankly it’s good to finally see the publication of a nonfiction book about Iran that’s not strictly about politics or, even worse, a straight memoir.

You can read more about Tori and Kamran on the Ashtary Design bio page.

[Image: View from Iran]

Marina Nemat Appearing at Indigo

Marina Nemat Prisoner of Tehran cover

At 16 years of age, Marina Nemat was arrested in Tehran by officials of Khomeini’s regime and taken to Evin Prison. She spent two years there before being saved from execution by a prison guard she would later be forced to marry. Her book “Prisoner of Tehran,” published more than 20 years later in Canada, is a story of survival spanning the years in which she made efforts to help other young women survive prison, lived in a forced marriage, and was eventually able to escape the country.

For those in the Toronto area, Nemat will appear at Indigo Books and Music in the Manulife Centre on Wednesday, July 4 at 7:00 pm to discuss the book with Indigo CEO Heather Reisman.

Windows into Persian Culture

For literary enthusiasts in the Washington D.C. area, the Asia Society and co-host IREX will present a panel discussion on contemporary Iranian-American literature, and its role in fostering understanding about Iran, as part of their series on Islam in Asia. Windows into Persian Culture: Contemporary Iranian American Literature will take place on Tuesday, June 5th at 6:40 p.m. at the International Research and Exchanges Board.

Panelists Anita Amirrezvani, Afshin Molavi and Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, along with moderator Jacki Lyden will explore aspects of traditional Persian culture through an examination of some of the particular challenges encountered by those writing about Iran. For more information on this and other great Asia Society events, take a look at their events calendar.

Persian Fairy Tales on the Mean Streets of NYC

Persian Fairy Tales Cover

One big benefit of living in New York City – besides never needing a car, rooftop parties, and all the attractive people – is the presence of people selling books on nearly every street corner. This really ramps up when it’s warm, naturally, so the city’s streets are covered with used books.

I’ve tried to be really disciplined about not stopping when I see these tables full of books, because stopping always means buying, but I have luckily broken my own rule a few times. One of these times was when I glimpsed a copy of Mollah Nasreddin stories, which I found hilarious as told by my mom in Persian when I was a little girl. Turns out that Mollah isn’t really all that funny in English, but I had to pick that one up for my mom.

And just a few weeks ago, walking home from the train in my extremely hipster-saturated Brooklyn neighborhood, Williamsburg, I saw the book Persian Fairy Tales by Eleanor Brockett. It was first published in 1962, but the edition I got was a 1968 reprint in nearly perfect condition (I hate when used books have that moldy smell). It sources translations of the Shahnameh in addition to translations of Persian stories that were published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I especially love that the last story in the book is entitled “Three Wicked Women.” Yikes!

My only gripe with NYC is that it’s a little tough to find the same books that I know in LA are easily obtained with a drive to Westwood’s many Iranian bookstores. The New York Public Library has a pretty extensive Asian and Middle Eastern Division but it looks like most of their Persian and Iranian resources are only available at the research-level (though they support independent research). Still, it’s so nice to be surprised to find your culture represented (however strangely appropriated and/or translated) vis-a-vis books on the street.