1. There’s lots to write about Persepolis. Most on my mind is the experience of being an outsider in a land of plenty. When Satrapi goes to Europe from post-revolution Iran, she finds herself welcomed by very few and relegated to groups of outcasts and losers. It’s very difficult to build a life from nothing no matter how talented you are. It goes without saying opportunities are glimpsed more than experienced in many such situations. Her return to Iran, of all things, is better for her.
I feel weird saying this because there are many stories of successful immigrants. There are people who find a way of seizing initiative – or, perhaps, are given the initiative – and build a life in another country. One might differentiate between an immigrant and a refugee, but I’d rather keep that difference one of degree. The real issue for me is not success or the lack thereof, but how our opportunities are or aren’t already structured.
2. The quote about laughter being the only option for some is in the context of meeting a childhood friend badly mangled by war injuries. He could only laugh at how he was sewn back together. Satrapi’s reaction is of shock, horror and pity toward him. No reaction that he can use to rebuild his life. It isn’t clear, of course, that he will ever get the reaction he needs.
The largest, deepest sense of opportunity & freedom is being away from the anxiety that one is utterly powerless in life. There are quite a few people who I’m meeting who think fear alone can spur people to the initiative they need to be successful. Don’t get me wrong: fear is a powerful tool. But I’m running into more and more households where the attitudes that create behavior like this is only a matter of degree. What matters most for opportunity is that one is seen as human.