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According to her flap-copy bio, author Marjane Satrapi “was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran. She now lives in Paris, where she is a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers throughout the world…” In between being born and becoming a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers throughout the world, Satrapi, the only child of left-leaning intellectuals, lived through the Iranian revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, a painfully lonely exile in Vienna, Austria, and an even more painful return home. These events form the skeleton of her two-part graphic memoir, an intimate portrait of exile and alienation drawn in sparse black and white. Picking up where Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, left off, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return begins with a picture of a scared 15-year-old Satrapi, alone in an unfamiliar room, 10 days after being sent away to safety by her parents. “I am in Austria,” the text reads. “I had come here with the idea of leaving a religious Iran for an open and secular Europe and that Zozo, my mother’s best friend, would love me like her own daughter.” But Europe is strange and unfriendly, and Zozo promptly sends her off to a boardinghouse run by nuns. Unfamiliar with German and alienated from her classmates, Satrapi befriends a group of radical leftists who, quoting Sartre, introduce her to sex and drugs. (She’s already familiar with rock ’n’ roll.) Over the next 80 or so pages, she neglects her schoolwork, pierces her ear with a safety pin, moves out of the boardinghouse, falls in and out of love, and, finally, is thrown out onto the street by a vindictive landlady. A few months later, homeless and racked with bronchitis, she decides to return to Iran. “So much for my individual and social liberties,” she says to herself, donning a veil in her bathroom mirror. “I needed so badly to go home.” But it is 1988, more than a decade after the revolution, and her home is much different from what she remembers. Patrolled by the Guardians of the Revolution and haunted by memories of war, the Iran of her childhood has become a police state. Satrapi manages to establish a relatively normal life—she enrolls in art school, reaquaints herself with childhood friends, and falls in love a few more times—but her daily routine is a constant negotiation of boundaries, from the length of her veil to the shade of her lipstick. As she astutely points out, the oppression “hinged on the little details. To our leaders, the smallest thing could be a subject of subversion. Showing your wrist. A loud laugh. Having a Walkman…The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: Are my trousers long enough? Is my veil in place? Can my makeup be seen? Are they going to whip me? No longer asks herself: Where is my freedom of thought? Where is my freedom of speech? My life, is it livable?” Unlike many stories of alienation and tyranny, Persepolis 2 manages not to feel heavy-handed or preachy. Just the opposite: By juxtaposing her loneliness and oppression with descriptions of body-hair removal, Madonna, and aerobics, Satrapi makes her book feel less like a political diatribe than an intimate conversation with a friend.

—Michael Lukas