All around the world, human beings cry for the same reason. They have pain. They lose loved ones. They worry about a sick relative.
“But we don’t laugh for the same reasons,” said Marjane Satrapi, Iranian writer and graphic artist, in a talk she gave last year at Oberlin College. “Being able to laugh with someone, we have to understand the subtlety of the language. We have to have a deeper understanding of the person. The moment we can laugh together, that means that everything is fine, that we have really understood each other.”
Humor serves as a portal to understanding in all Satrapi’s books, which use a comic-strip style to tell stories of ordinary life touched by the horrors of fundamentalism and war. When I read “Persepolis,” her memoir about growing up in the 1970s and ’80s during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, I finished it in one sitting that included laughing out loud and wiping tears from my face. But I couldn’t put it down. Same with its follow-up, “Persepolis II,” and a third book, “Embroideries,” which records a rap session among a coterie of female family members and friends.
After all, art, at its best, helps elucidate life, and Satrapi’s books have taught a generation of readers to think beyond the “axis of evil” label and into the humanity of another culture. She’ll talk about her life and work during a public conversation at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in Room 130 of Little Hall at the University of Maine in Orono as part of the Socialist Marxist Lecture Series. The event, which I will moderate, is free and open to the public.
Satrapi was born in 1969 and grew up in Tehran, the child of Marxist intellectuals and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors. Her books not only reveal her country’s volatile history through the eyes of a smart little girl, but they also draw a portrait of family life and the irrepressible candor of youth. Satrapi’s background is in decorative arts, but her books, she has said, drew inspiration from illustrations that accompany ancient Iranian poetry, American comic books she bought as a child, and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” the landmark comic book account of the Holocaust.
In addition to her books for adults, Satrapi, who lives in Paris, has also written several children’s books and her illustrations appear regularly in newspapers and magazines. Her newest publication is “Chicken with Plums,” about her great-uncle, an Iranian musician.