Review by John for An Iranian Metamorphosis by Mana Neyestani.
John’s quick take: A wonderful autobiographical graphic novel detailing the Kafkaesque story of Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani, as he goes from idealistic writer, to detainee in the feared Iranian prison system, to homeless fugitive and refugee.
John’s description: Neyestani was a children’s cartoonist working for an Iranian newspaper. Despite the increasingly radical nature of the government he felt safe as he contributed to the leisure section of the paper and not the political section. But one of his innocent cartoons inadvertently sparks tensions with some Azerbaijanis in the Islamic Republic, who feel insulted as a cockroach in the story uses an Azeri word. In a tense political climate, tensions lead to demonstrations lead to riots, and the Iranian government needs someone to blame. Neyestani and his editor are called in for questioning.
After a Kafkaesque series of events they find themselves detained indefinitely in Iran’s horrendous prison system and then placed in solitary confinement. Eventually he is unexpectedly released – albeit on a temporary basis. Fearing for his future, Neyestani and his wife flee the country and travel through Dubai, Turkey, Malaysia and China, trying to find some form of freedom and a place they can call home. But they find life as refugees with no legal status is almost as stressful as the life they have left behind.
John’s thoughts: This is a powerful and eye-opening story, that is told with the help of some excellent illustrations and plenty of dark humor. You get an insider’s view of some of the complex political, cultural, ethnic and authoritarian issues within the Islamic Republic – and it is not a pretty picture.
Neyestani is put through an absurd series of events, and throughout the story draws some parallel’s with Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, even using a cockroach as a theme that runs through the story. He goes through his own transformation from a young easy-going idealistic writer, to a beleaguered and downtrodden prisoner, to a fearful and anxious fugitive. The absurdities are almost hilarious; but this really happened.
I’d rate this book four stars and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes intense autobiographies or who wants to better understand what it is like to live in a radical and authoritarian state. And don’t be put off by the fact that this is a graphic novel – I think that the format actually allowed the author to enhance the story-telling.
Mana Neyestani (born 1973, in Tehran) is an Iranian cartoonist and illustrator for economic, intellectual, political, cultural, and professional magazines. He is particularly known for his work for the newspaper Zan and Persian language Radio Zamaneh. He is the recipient of the Cartoonists Rights Network International award for courage in editorial cartooning, 2010. He now lives in France.
Softcover | 200 pages | Uncivilized Books | October 2014