November 2009

Looking at the past through pictures

By Parsua Bashi
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Like a blend of Persepolis and A Christmas Carol, Parsua Bashi's graphic memoir of growing up in Iran, Nylon Road, takes a playful tone but covers some seriously dark material along the way.

Bashi was born in Tehran in 1966 and moved to Switzerland in 2004. Her memoir is narrated from Switzerland in the present day, but the story is triggered by a little girl she suddenly sees one day in her kitchen. The little girl, it turns out, is Bashi herself as a child. Once she figures this out, she suddenly starts running into previous versions of herself all over the place, and interacts with each of them in an effort to reconcile various elements of her difficult past. It's a neat trick that lends itself well to the graphic novel treatment: we get to see Bashi as she is now talking with Bashi at 21, or at 35. In one scene, for example, one of her more argumentative former selves appears at her side during a dinner party, and Bashi locks herself into the bathroom to hash things out with her.

Some of her former selves are more fun to run into than others. Bashi avoids herself at 29, for example. At that age she was a young mother whose 5-year-old daughter had been taken away in court because Bashi divorced her husband. Under Iranian law at the time, a woman who asked for divorce gave up all custody rights. A straight re-creation of the event might seem overwrought, but Bashi's technique makes even such heartbreaking scenes light enough not to drag the story down.

The drawing is similarly light and fluid, not weighed down by excessive detail but effective at telegraphing ideas that would be hard to express in words. Illustrating the difficulty of moving to a country where no one speaks your language, she draws a shivering girl standing in a snowstorm, holding a tiny umbrella labeled "my knowledge of foreign languages," between a sunny gazebo labeled "Farsi" and a locked-and-guarded brick fortress labeled "Deutsch." It's funny and inventive, and you know exactly what she's getting at. Bashi's style, in other words, takes a comlicated, difficult story and makes it improbably easy to relate to.

Becky Ohlsen writes from Portland, Oregon.

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Nylon Road

Nylon Road

By Parsua Bashi
St. Martin's
ISBN 9780312532864

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