Woman, Life, Freedom

Image of Woman, Life, Freedom
Release Date: 
March 19, 2024
Seven Stories Press
Reviewed by: 

“offers readers the complicated, rich dimensions of life in and outside of Iran and the wide diversity of people daring to fight for freedom . . .”

The author-illustrator of Persepolis is back with an important graphic novel collection. This time, Satrapi didn't write or draw most of the content, but she carefully shepherded various storytellers to create an incredibly powerful book "to explain what's going on in Iran, to decipher events in all their complexity and nuance for a non-Iranian readership, and to help you understand them as fully as possible." In this, the book succeeds magnificently. Western news covers some of the protests detailed here, but nowhere near the full scale and scope of the current popular struggle against oppression.

The Iranian writers paired with a range of talented illustrators introduce the problems with the "morality" police, the armed forces that arrest women for any kind of dress or behavior deemed sacrilegious. When one young woman, Mahsa Amini, dies due to their brutality, her murder ignites "the first feminist revolution in history supported by men." A gamut of authors describe these protests, how ubiquitous they were, how galvanizing, and how brutally suppressed.

"This wave of anger in mainly fueled by WOMEN who are discarding and burning their veils as an act of defiance against a regime entrenched in sexual apartheid . . . You can't even imagine how insanely brave that is."

The stories show us just how courageous these young people are (and it is mainly young adults). A heartbreaking series of portraits of men who are executed for participating in these protests, along women who are jailed or killed, makes the history intensely personal. The ends the government is willing to go to in order to control the people are described in horrifying detail, including gassing girls in schools to try to discourage their education.

The Western press barely covers any of these stories. Satrapi does the public an important service by allowing it to see what's happening, to hear about it from the people actually involved. The various points of view and experiences weave together into a compelling whole. The reader learns about the corrupt government; the idle rich who profit from it; the central role of the Revolutionary Guard, which controls the weapons, the money, the power. There are stories about censorship with writers and intellectuals facing not just silencing of their words, but death. There are stories about individual protests and protestors. There are stories of incredible defiance and bravery. One man who is still in jail, posted on social media before his arrest:

"Friends, the greatest death is despair. If we lose hope, we'll become passive and lethargic, and if we stay lethargic, we'll forfeit every chance we have, every opportunity. . . . The price of freedom is high. Lives will be lost. So be it. But in the end, the day will come when we will rise to power and the criminals will be prosecuted. When that day comes, we will have justice and freedom."

This hope and determination is inspiring and runs through these brutal pages. The people may be oppressed but they remain strong. They know that "the art of rebellion is an everyday battle." We all can learn a lot from these ordinary Iranians doing extraordinary things, day after day.

Satrapi ends the book with a long discussion between all the writers illustrated by her friend, Joann Sfar, the one Jew in the group, who fits in perfectly. Just as American intellectuals and college campuses today see Israel as a "white colonial oppressor," these same groups have "been led to believe that defending freedom would make them 'Islamophobic!'" As one Iranian American historian explains:

"For too long, Western nations wanted to believe the regime's lies. But it's neither 'anti-imperialist' nor 'anti-Zionist.' Its supporters are racist and antisemitic. This smokescreen still dupes some fringe groups in the West. It explains why certain people don't support the 'Woman, Life, Freedom' movement."

Satrapi herself has borne the brunt of this "idealized" view of Iran, this need by the progressive left to see racist hate only as they define it: "Persepolis was banned in a bunch of American schools for being Islamophobic!"

Satrapi, fortunately, refuses to be silenced—not in Europe and not in Iran. She has organized a unique book in this range of voices and imagery. Her new collection offers readers the complicated, rich dimensions of life in and outside of Iran and the wide diversity of people daring to fight for freedom, all reflected in the different narrators and illustrators. There's a lot to appreciate in these pages, stories that need to be heard.