Persepolis was originally published in France where it won several awards and wide acclaim. In 2003, the novel was published by Random House in the United States. Persepolis is a graphic novel which tells the story of its author and her childhood in Tehran, Iran. The novel details the author's family life in the context of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the overthrow of the Shah, and the resulting Iran-Iraq War. The book is drawn in a stark black and white style and is told from the perspective of Satrapi's childhood self.
The book's themes deal with the moral ambiguities of the Iranian Revolution, the dissonance between politics and class, the history of Middle Eastern relations, and the process of growing up during political turmoil and war. The novel's release was particularly poignant in the United States. It came in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, the beginnings of the Iraq War, and the increasing strain on American-Iranian relations. It shed light on the tumultuous history behind Middle Eastern politics and it gave a personal dimension to stereotypical Western views of Middle Eastern culture and religion.
The novel explicitly deals with issues of class disparities and Satrapi frames these debates as contradictory and conflicted. Satrapi's family was, for instance, Marxist and communist, yet they kept a maid and maintained a more privileged lifestyle than lower classes. These contradictions within her own family are meant to reflect the contradictions in Iranian society both then and now.
As a work of political and cultural art, the novel has been criticized by some for its one-sided portrayal of Islamic culture. Her portrayal of the Islamic regime that took over control of the country after the Revolution is largely one sided. Her interpretation is grounded in Middle Eastern culture and infused with Western cultural sensibilities. Critics have claimed that Satrapi fails to take seriously the millions of Muslims that adhere to a conservative dogmatic faith.
Satrapi's graphic novel has undeniably become an important work of modern literature. It has joined Art Spiegelman's Maus as one of the most popular and well received graphic memoirs, and it has become one of the most widely popular works that specifically deal with the cultural and political issues of the modern Middle East.