• Elina Arbo

EMBROIDERIES: BOOK REVIEW

When we think of the word “embroideries” we think of something pretty— however, that’s not always the case.


Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries is a look into the lives of Iranian women as they navigate love, marriage, sex, and the concept of virginity. The author captures the women she is surrounded by, including her aunt and grandmother, to frame their histories: she brings to life and documents these stories as a lived history.


I was first introduced to Marjane Satrapi when I read Persepolis. I was engrossed in the graphics and the personal backstory that she painted. But what made Satrapi’s work even more special is the historical setting which she recounts so clearly and with nuance; there is an extreme level of skill with capturing multiple elements into a single page of the book. This holds true for this book as well.


As readers flip through the pages, it feels like you are sitting with Satrapi and the women. For me, it was very reminiscent of the moments I used to spend with the women of my family: sprawled over the living room often recalling memories, giggling, and even reflecting over serious moments in their lives. The comic indulges you in the story in such an interactive way it really does feel like you’re in the same room as all the other characters. For instance, at one point in the book, the author has her own stories to tell. The women nudge her to tell the story and when she finally agrees, a dialogue of reassurance and trust pours out across the page framing the Satrapi’s illustrated character.


Satrapi’s illustrations quite literally build movement in the story, hand-in-hand with the text. The imagery is elaborate especially in some of the deepest, most vulnerable moments. The graphics paint the story in full, animate, but also create moments of tension, anger, and irony. The women share emotions, good and bad. They reflect on their cheating husbands and lovers, pouring out their emotions. Even when discussing something like plastic surgery, there is a bond between each woman in every one of their experiences. There are moments of disagreement, where women “acting like men” before marriage is trivial among each of the characters, but there is unity nonetheless.


One of the more significant topics the characters discuss is virginity. The title of the book hints at this conversation, as women who often lose their virginity may undergo reconstructive surgery to “sew it back” for the next time one engages in sexual intercourse, often with a partner whom they marry. While a conversation like this is difficult, Satrapi is diligent in discussing how many of the women around her view this and are impacted by it. There is a clear elucidation of the harms that this carries; virginity itself is socially constructed, cissexist, and gendered. Satrapi entraps readers to draw on their interpretation of how “virginity” is used to alienate and criticize many individuals.


The author draws on many similarities and differences that social and gender dynamics play across culture. This book is a personable insight into the world Satrapi and the women around her live, and is examined with scrutiny, humor, and love.


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