Book Review: Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

by Marjane Satrapi
144 pp, $17

Embroideries, the newest from Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi, is a slim volume that explores 10 women’s sex lives.

The first few pages, where the grandma confesses her opium addictions and wrestles with her morning tea, I found absolutely hilarious. She advises Marjane to get a more languid look in her eyes. The next frame, Marjane squints and asks, “Do you think I look intelligent this way?” But intelligence is not the point: men, her grandmother is saying, don’t want someone bright-eyed, or intelligent.

Luckily, the book isn’t about what men want, but rather, what women want and how they have to compromise to get it.

Every woman tells a neat little story with an epiphany. This is the main problem I have with Satrapi; at the end of each Persepolis chapter, her younger self would have a realization. I want her characters to sort of wander and wonder and groan in their painful states, not be ejected from them right away, armed with a solution.

The women in Embroideries all have a common value system. Because of their stories’ deliveries, and their epiphanies, they all end up reflecting Satrapi’s personality, like little prismic mirrors, and don’t stand alone as individual characters.

I disliked that Marjane told a story about a friend, and not a sexual adventure of her own. It seemed cheap to “out” every other women’s experience, while keeping her stories locked away, and herself virtuous-seeming.

I was disappointed with the lettering: I thought it was sloppy and crude. The drawings were typical Satrapi, but lacked the sort of whimsy the older books had possessed. In addition, I was annoyed that the volume took me only 45 minutes to read and cost $17.

I did enjoy the book, mostly; it kept me entertained those 45 minutes. After reading it, I saw an ad that screamed: “Ladies: Cosmetic Gynecology,” and I laughed. The title, Embroideries, refers to the operation of being “taken in,” either for cosmetic reasons (one character confesses she’s just not as elastic as she used to be) or for replacing one’s hymen. In that context, the book does a rare thing: addresses hypocrisy and other double meanings of our world in a succinct, entertaining package.

Ultimately, though, I had a problem, have a problem, with books that on the surface seem to be groundbreaking and honest, but don’t delve as far as they need to. I want to read about sexual experiences we don’t hear about, or talk about, often enough: namely experiences that ivolve incest and sexual abuse, and, on the celebratory side, those that involve masturbation, and same-sex relationships. These subjects seem to still hold a taboo in Middle Eastern women’s writing about female sexuality, and I wished Embroideries could have dipped into them. The silence on these topics is reflective of the silence that persists in salons and diwans: only had Satrapi’s aunts and cousins and grandmas spoke about them could they have been reflected in her art. But maybe it is our responsibility as artists to write about these experiences first; drag them, kicking and screaming, to tea with our mothers and sisters after lunch.

One thought on “Book Review: Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

  1. Nice review, Randa. I hadn’t actually thought about Satrapi’s tendency to wrap everything up into neat little packages in Persepolis I and II–I was too busy devouring the stories to reflect on them at the time. Now I want to go back and look at their structure more.


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