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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant fusion of the personal and the political, 12 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Zahra's Paradise: Graphic Novel (Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens) (Hardcover)
I often wonder how anyone manages to compose an accomplished graphic novel: to me the sheer amount of work that goes into such things suggests there should be fewer around - even when, as in this case, there are two authors, one for the writing, one for the artwork. Zahra's Paradise came out in 2011, just two years after the events it depicts (the stolen Iranian election of 2009). The title is multi-referential. On the most literal level, it refers to the cemetery of the same name in Tehran (Behesht-e Zahra); on a more ironic level it refers to Fatimah Zarah, the Prophet Muhammad's only child from his first wife, Khadijah, and thus to the Islamic Republic of Iran which claims to be partly her legacy; on the third level, it is the name of the fictional mother - Zahra Alevi - the novel's protagonist, whose son is arrested by the Revolutionary Guards during the protests that were the aftermath of the fraudulent elections; finally, it points to Zahra Kazemi, the real-life Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was arrested for taking a picture too far, and was raped, tortured and finally killed whilst in the custody of the Iranian authorities in 2003. The graphic novel manages to weave all these disparate threads into a seamless whole.

Zahra's Paradise is actually a gripping story, as well as a heartfelt cry for justice. Its appeal lies partly in the fact that its theme is perennial - the phenomenon of "the disappeared". With a few adjustments, the authors could have been writing about Russia, China, Chile, Argentina or any one of a large number of countries at some point in the last hundred years. The fact that this is going on now, however, gives it a particular poignancy. And of course, the fact that, as usual, the perpetrators justify their grotesqueries with the laughable claim that they are acting in the name of the oppressed.

As well as being an excellent story, Zahra's Paradise boasts some truly outstanding artwork. The picture on page 168-9 should be blown up and put on a billboard in Azadi Square. At the end of the book, the authors devote several pages to straight text, trying to put the events depicted in the novel into the context of Iranian history, in the course of which they discuss the beneficial impact many Persian poets and mystics have had on their culture. That their acquaintance with these poets is profound is shown by the last chapter in the novel, "The Furies". Never, in any graphic novel I have read (and I have read many, including Persepolis and Palestine, the two with which Zahra's Paradise has most frequently been compared) have I come across such an intensely moving fusion of the personal and the political. Page 218 is so impassioned as to be almost unbearable to read. A word of warning, though: if you DO buy this novel, don't turn there before you read the 217 pages that precede it: it only achieves its effect as a culmination of the story.

This novel, one feels, is not just a great piece of art and literature (yes, I mean that), but a part of Iran's ongoing history. For so many other reasons, it cries out to be read by everyone.
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Location: Sussex, UK

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