Book Review: Embroideries

EMBROIDERIESEmbroideries, by Marjane Satrapi, 2005, Pantheon.

This will be a quick review for a quick read. The review is rated PG13, for some of the content discussed.

Marjane Satrapi is best known as the author of Persepolis, an autobiographical graphic novel about her life growing up in an educated, political family in Iran and her experience in a boarding school in Austria. She also co-wrote and co-directed the animated feature, Persepolis, which won critical acclaim.

I have been told I would enjoy reading Persepolis. I saw the movie long enough ago that I do not remember it, but Satrapi is on my list of books to read. I am also always on the lookout for a great graphic novel, as I have very limited exposure. A couple months ago, I found myself at the library with absolutely nothing to do–not even the novel that I always, always keep in my purse. But who wants to start a book they can’t finish? (This was a library in a different county, and I could not check the book out.) The solution? Perhaps I could get through a graphic novel in my wait time. So I wandered to the graphic novel section and grabbed a couple that interested me, including the only Satrapi on the shelf. After leafing through some longer books, I settled on Embroideries because I could indeed read it in one sitting.

I was disappointed. While I enjoy Satrapi’s art, I found this particular graphic novel to be dismal and disjointed. Perhaps you’ll argue that there’s nothing wrong with dismal writing, and I suppose you would be at least partly right. There is a time and place to expose and contemplate the darker shades of life. But I, fortunately or unfortunately, don’t have a whole lot of tolerance for grit. I need art to be redemptive in some way, and I also need the negativity to have some sort of justification. Part of why I didn’t enjoy this novel, in fact, is the events portrayed were sold (by the author, as you read) as normal and okay. But I just couldn’t read it that way.

There is also a place and time to contemplate the (active, vibrant) sex lives of women, especially those in cultures where very little is known or understood because of suppression or compartmentalization. But this book seemed to subvert the femininity instead of merely observing or even celebrating it. I didn’t find these people to be believable, at least as more than anomalies. If they are, I think Satrapi has done us a disservice here, because they don’t feel like it.

Sex is what this book is all about. The title, Embroideries, refers to a medical procedure in which women are sewn up so that they bleed–like virgins–during sexual intercourse. The novel itself is structured around a single conversation, in which a dozen women, some related, some friendly, from young to old, air their sexual histories in a series of questions and anecdotal stories.

So, you know, no plot. It jumps around and has to work hard to hold your attention. It feels like a shallow treatment of a deep subject. Basically, it could have been much, much better.

I suppose one might find this super quick read interesting. And I suppose even I did. But I didn’t really enjoy it, and I doubt many will. Not Satrapi’s best.

But the illustrations are great, as usual.

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