I always tell myself I like to read outside the box and broaden my literary horizons. Try something new and different. Then again, maybe I am not really as daring as I think I am. I'm fine if the book broadens my horizons as long as it is still either within my comfort zone or a book that I think I'll like or simply a natural outgrowth of my reading interests at the moment. I do want to be more daring in my reading choices, but I also want to love what I read, so choosing books can be challenging. Do I take a risk on a book that I might not like or struggle with just because it is different or innovative or comes highly recommended by the experts? Well, that's always the question, isn't it? So many books, so little time to read and a desire to fill that time with the books I know I'll enjoy most.
Last month Stefanie read a graphic novel called Habibi, which sounded interesting but upon browsing the book I decided that maybe it wasn't quite the right fit for the moment. There was no hesitation in sending it back to the library unread. Several years ago I read Iranian-born Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, an autobiographical story in pictures about the author's childhood growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution and subsequent exile to Austria. Sadly I didn't write about it, though I recall liking it very much. It was a safe bet, then, that I would probably enjoy Satrapi's graphic novel, Embroideries (Broderies). And I was right, I did. It had the added benefit that it was a natural outgrowth of of my reading, as I just finished another memoir set in Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s, about which I'll share more later this week. Curiosity has once again been piqued and my new reading trail (well, one of them anyway) veers off into Middle Eastern literature (more to follow on that one as well).
I'm bending the rules a little since Marjane Satrapi now lives in Paris and her book, though you would be hard-pressed to tell from my edition as there's not much fanfare about this being a translation, was originally written in French. She writes about her Iranian family, however, particularly the women. Embroideries is a much lighter, even gossipy in tone, story compared to Persepolis. It's also quite short and easy to read and can be enjoyed in one sitting. It's illustrated by Marjane Satrapi in fairly plain black and white drawings, most of which take up whole pages rather than relying on a comic strip-style approach.
As Marjo tends the samovar (a proper cup of tea must cook for three quarters of an hour), the women attend to their favorite business--Discussion. Led by her strong-minded and independent grandmother it's not surprising in which direction that discussion wends.
"To speak behind the others' backs is the ventilator of the heart."
Love, sex, relationships and marriage. The tone is quite often irreverent, but the stories are all the more poignant for that reason. Each woman has a story to tell--her own or that of a friend and Marji listens with rapt attention as does the reader. How to fix the loss of virginity, or rather how to fix the appearance of the loss of virginity on a wedding night might be easily remedied, but only with a steady hand. Love potions administered just right will guarantee the steadfastness of a lover, though they sound a little messy and timing is important. In a society that reveres purity in women, there's a decided lack of reciprocal behavior in many of the men. And it's hard not to feel bad for the woman with four daughters but scant understanding of the nuances of lovemaking and none of the little secrets that lovers/husbands-wives share in intimate moments.
I suppose you can tell a lot about a culture by understanding what does or does not happen behind closed doors and maybe even in the bedroom, so this is an interesting look into another world. East and west have always seemed so different to me in their practices and world view, but the more I read I think maybe we're not so different in emotions and expectations of happiness after all.
I now have Satrapi's Persepolis 2 out from the library and ready to read and hope to get to it soon. It's taken me far too long to see how her story ends. Maybe I'll watch the movie as well. This has reminded me how much I enjoy reading graphic novels.