The bold and dazzling banter between the women in Embroideries reveals the mischievously poignant and heartrending secrets of love and marriage, all of which are inherently universal. But they’re even better when told by Marjane Satrapi with her artfully distinctive Iranian spice.
In the United States, women are said to let their hair down, but in Iran, they take off the veil. This is not only an expression but a confining reality for many women in Iran who shed their veils among family and female friends in order to relax, feel more comfortable, and “ventilate the heart.” Embroideries, written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi, is a vibrant conversation between several witty and opinionated women discussing marriage, love, and being a woman, although rarely do all three come together at once. “Marriage, it’s like roulette. Sometimes one wins, often one loses. Even if you’re very in love it can still go bad.” Satrapi’s writing keeps the fast pace of this striking conversation moving without sacrificing details, especially the juicy ones.
Written and illustrated in the unique style of her critically acclaimed Persopolis, Embroideries maintains a consistent voice in the clever conversation of each character. The women, many of whom are recurring characters from Persepolis, offer dozens of parables told from first-person experiences or the experiences of others and their encounters with lovers and husbands. Sharp quotes are scattered throughout the book like treasures of witticism, all of which convey a similar message: There is no one true lesson in love.
As a collection of short stories told not through the plot but as a dialogue, the novel whirls around so fast it can be read in an hour. While the book may be short, the significance of each story and character can be pondered at length and should be savored in the subtle complexity of each. The title might be misleading, as if alluding to the gossip of a knitting circle, but Embroideries is revealed halfway through the book as a humorous sexual term (which will survive as an inside joke to readers with its cunning double meaning).
Amongst the many concepts chatted about by the characters are chastity and its social and personal significance for women. The discussion of the values related to sexual morality for women is written very facetiously. Many of the stories in Embroideries relate the expectation for Iranian women to be sexually pure without making the same standard for men. The book hints that, in a male-dominated society, only a woman’s character and reputation are judged in accordance with her sexual proclivities. It never seems to be the same for men.
Reviewed by Jayme Joyce on April 18, 2006