Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

EmbroideriesI picked this up because I’ve been enjoying reading nonfiction comics recently. I loved Persepolis, and I honestly wasn’t expecting Embroideries to be as good. What a delightful surprise!

Embroideries is a short graphic memoir that takes place on one afternoon. Satrapi sits with her mother, grandmother, aunt, and a group of their friends and neighbors in her grandmother’s living room. What follows is both universal and ordinary: this group of women, free from the presence of men, drink tea and tell stories.

They talk about sex and marriage and love. They tell stories about losing their virginity, about happy and unhappy marriages, about affairs they’ve had, about men who have harmed, wronged, and abandoned them. They talk about falling in love as teenagers, as young women, as middle-aged women. They talk about the freedom of divorce and widowhood. Their stories are funny and serious and absurd. They talk and laugh and cry and gossip, teasing and comforting each other.

It was all a delight to read. It was not only an intimate glimpse into the things that concern women all over the world, but it beautifully captured the sacredness of women gathering together to talk and share. At times the tone was serious and at times it was silly, but there was always an underlying sense of the closeness of these women. Even when they were teasing, or laughing at each other’s expense, Satrapi managed to capture–with words and images–the sanctuary of the afternoon. Whether they’re talking about the first time they had sex or plastic surgery or fleeing their husbands in the night, it is clear that their time together is both ordinary and sacred: a place where they are free to express themsleves, to be irreverent, to be vulnerable, to be strong.

The black-and-white artwork was straightforward and impactful. I loved the images of these women laughing, the range of all their facial expressions as they talked, and the sense of comfort and ease the illustrations imparted.

Embroideries is a book about Iranian women–they talk about Iranian culture, about living under a repressive regime, and about marriage norms and traditions common in Iran. But the struggles and joys they discuss are universal, and so is the overall feeling that permeates the book, the sense that such gatherings–spaces where women come together without men–are both vital and beautiful.

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