I've had this on my bookshelf forever, having read and enjoyed Satrapi's Persepolis books ages ago, but for some reason, didn't get around to this one. However, Iran is in the news once again and after reading Adrian McKinty's blog posts here and here, which are a form of literary solidarity with the protesters' position, I noticed a copy of Embroideries in the store and had a sudden impulse to read it.
Let me start out by saying that I love graphic novels. I am so happy to have been reintroduced to the form again after many, many years, as I was never a comic book collector. And lord knows, I've never been hip enough to have caught on to all the great things people were doing with comics until, what, maybe ten years ago?, when everyone else had the same blinding insight.
I know a lot of people who get frustrated with the form--for them, it's over too quickly. But I really just love the marriage of word and image. I think it's one of the great sins of modern publishing that the divorce of these two has been so complete in all 'serious' modern fiction. Illustration is suspect. But for godssake, why? The most we can hope for these days is a decent cover.
I think one of the reasons I was slow to check out this particular Satrapi was that, in some half-conscious way, I thought of it as 'slight'. After the political work of Persepolis, I suppose I thought she was coasting when writing and illustrating this shorter tale of a group of women coming together to 'ventilate their hearts'--ie, gossip and tell tales. And of course, in this I betray my own subtle indoctrination into the idea of the importance of men's business, and the triviality of women's business.
As we read about what to all intents and purposes is an Iranian women's consciousness raising session, it's true that it's possible to feel that the subject matter is a little bit dated. Haven't we all been through this already? Well, yes and no. Perhaps women's predicaments are universal, but the way they are articulated are particular and local. The position of educated Iranian women must be one of the most delicate and excruciating of all. And let me just say that you will never view the word 'embroidery' in exactly the same way again.
Satrapi is sometimes criticized for the apparent artlessness of her images. There is a lot that is very, very simple in her drawing. But her use of the possibilities of the form are far from naive. She uses the space quite dramatically and effectively.
Check it out.