from graphic novel guest blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:
Marjane Satrapi’s memoir depicting her girlhood in a changing Iran, during the 1970’s, is already a sequential art classic: relevant to readers who have and haven’t shared the kinds of emotional hardships and wonders of which she speaks, accessible across generations, and providing a story that has that magic power to compel its audience to accompany the main character through her explorations and revelations. Newcomer (to American readers) Marzena Sowa recounts her different—and yet arguably equally universal—experience of girlhood in Marzi.
The differences stand out readily enough: countries (Iran vs Poland), cultures (Muslim vs Catholic), class (middle vs working), and decade (the 1970’s vs the 1980’s). But the similarities—shared strengths really—are acute: the vivid depictions of family interactions, the willingness to reveal one’s own childhood faults, the experiences of political unrest and change as witnessed by children who attempt to interpret adult reports and opinions in order to try to make sense of events they see and do not understand.
Marzi is already of recognized character in Western Europe, her author’s home since leaving Poland. American teens, especially those whose families are similar to the character’s childhood one—factory worker father, mysteriously richer neighbors—may be surprised, but certainly positively impressed, to find that they can identify with an author from Poland. Although younger than a teen, Marzi’s dawning awarenesses in these vignettes are well suited to older youth. Often we look for slightly older characters with whom young readers can feel the thrill of aspiration. Marzi’s strength, on the other hand, like Satrapi’s alter-ego, is giving youth space to recall their own moments of growing into knowing from childhood’s ignorance.
Adult/High School–Sowa, who was born in 1979 and spent her childhood in Poland at the end of its era behind the Iron Curtain, recalls episodes from family, school, and her social life as a child. Her storytelling is nicely arced, with each one- to 10-page recollection exploring how those around her either aided or impeded her developing understanding of both her private and public worlds. Savoia’s bouncy art depicts a little Marzi who is as skinny as she says she was, bright but far from nerdy, and cute as can be, her large eyes often winking in concentration or incredulity as she overhears snippets of adult conversations about money and rations, relatives and neighbors, and the dramatic changes coming in the state. Her father’s warmth and her mother’s sternness place readers right in Marzi’s shoes as she faces the emptied market bin without the fruit she longed to acquire, suffers in a tight-necked First Communion dress, and navigates the perils of a three-way (and thus unstable) best friendship. Snippets of Polish remain in the dialogue and signage, but context allows ready understanding by English-speaking audiences. A hit in Europe in an ongoing series of comics, Marzi shows Americans what it was like to live through a time of political upheaval as well as universal childhood dramas.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA