This Week's Reads

Marjane Satrapi, Larry Kane, and Hari Kunzru.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

By Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, $17.95) It's a world-encircling effort: An Iranian graphic novelist is published in France, her work is translated into English, and the themes resonate universally. Marjane Satrapi did it with Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood; now she takes readers into her teen years, when her parents sent her to Austria for schooling (after which she returned to Iran). Persepolis 2 is at least as compelling as its predecessor. Satrapi, whose childhood was shattered by revolution, fundamentalism, and the military conflict between Iran and Iraq, becomes a teen stoner in Austria after taking up with a pack of bourgeois anarchist kids. When Christmas comes around, they're off to the ski slopes to be "bored." When Satrapi tries to tell her friends about her winter holiday, Iran's New Year, nobody listens. Many such collisions of culture—nuns and a landlady with expectations for her behavior, her first boyfriend's complicity as his mother cruelly turns her away, faux radicals insistently quizzing her about war and death—dent Satrapi's spirit. She winds up living on the street for three months in winter, lands in a hospital with severe bronchitis, and decides her homesickness is just too much to bear. Satrapi goes home to Iran. At home, of course, she finds herself as isolated and misunderstood—and as much a misfit—as she had been in Austria. Many returns lie in store for Satrapi: a return to tradition, to the oppression of the fundamentalists, to her family's love, and to school. Her schoolmates want the freedom to go without a veil, wear makeup, and go to clubs, yet they reveal their ties to traditions by calling Satrapi a whore for having had sex with her boyfriend. Then there are the Guardians of the Revolution, the fundamentalist police, constantly looking for an excuse to throw her in prison. After six years encompassing a bout with depression, a failed suicide attempt, a marriage, a divorce, and a college degree, Satrapi heads back to Europe. Questions of identity, belonging, origins, and freedom echo throughout Satrapi's black-and-white drawings, which appear simple yet are exquisitely expressive. Her discussions of veils, for example—their length, their placement, their purpose—would be that much less rich if left only to words. Satrapi's tales are riveting and revealing. It is difficult to call all of them enjoyable, but this book contains a gentle humor that softens its depiction of the horrors of Iranian life. Persepolis 2 provides readers with a rare perspective: a picture of life in a country about which most Americans know very little, and a viewpoint of the world we almost never see. JOANNE GARRETT Marjane Satrapi will appear at Elliot Bay Book Co., 206-624-6600, at 7 p.m. Wed., Sept. 15; and at UW's Kane Hall, sponsored by University Book Store, 206-634-3400, at 7 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 16. Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles' 1964 & 1965 Tours That Changed the World

By Larry Kane (Penguin Books, $14) It was 40 years ago when the Ed Sullivan Show, featuring the Beatles in their American television debut, went head-to-head against The Wonderful World ofDisney and divided our household: boys (Beatles) against girls (Disney). The boys won. So we all watched those mop-topped lads from Liverpool—John, Paul, George, and Ringo—not knowing at the time that these four musicians would have such a far-reaching impact on American culture in just three years of touring. Larry Kane, a barely-out-of-college kid who was working for a Miami radio station, asked for an interview and ended up in the band's traveling press party. He posits that the group was a catalyst for changing the world—that the girls who were held back by barriers as they tried to touch their music idols were the same girls who a few years later would be crashing the barriers at peace marches. That seems a stretch. But there's no doubt that the girls were at the giddy, hysterical forefront of the screaming, dreaming crush of crowds that threatened the Beatles' safety at almost every tour stop—nearly loving the band to death. Kane captures the excitement and the fear as the Beatles introduced a new definition of concerts. They took the stage, played a 33-minute set, and escaped. The concertgoers' memories are vividly universal: They knew they could hear the songs (despite news reports that their screaming overpowered the music); they knew Paul was looking right at them; and they floated on air for days, knowing they had just attended the definitive concert of their lives. Kane was privy to it all in those early days. He had a ringside seat when the conversation turned to the burgeoning Vietnam War or to the racially divided South. He witnessed the parade of women who visited the hotel rooms late at night (although he never included these visits in his stories), and he watched as the Beatles took the first of many steps to keep their public image spotless. His tales quicken the heart. He puts us in the heat of the arenas, in the pressed-against-plate-glass craziness at airports, in the stands at Shea Stadium. Kane's memories resonate with those who are of that certain age. His book—with the accompanying CD of interviews with the Beatles—keeps that age fresh. JOANNE GARRETT Larry Kane appears at Third Place Books at 6 p.m. Fri., Sept. 10; and at University Bookstore at 7 p.m. Mon., Sept. 13. Transmission

By Hari Kunzru (Dutton, $25.95) Ever since on-the-lam hacker Kevin Mitnick was nabbed here in his fleabag U District flophouse by feds in body armor and jackboots in 1994, there's been a temptation to romanticize the figure of the lone hacker. A British writer for Wired and author of the acclaimed 2002 assimilationist novel The Impressionist, Hari Kunzru is more sympathetic to the Mitnik-like figure of his new novel than he is to readers whose inboxes are daily clogged with spam, viruses, and "Use This Patch Immediately!" urgencies. As the title of his sophomore effort implies, Transmission is a book about infection, about contamination, about the commingling of binary corpuscles and cybervessels that link the world today. The Western world and Third World are simultaneously contaminated by an Indian programmer, Arjun, who winds up an indentured wage slave in Silicon Valley, and connected by his passage. He's not just the inventor of the Web-crashing Leela virus—named for his favorite Bollywood actress, herself a minor character in the novel—but a virus himself. He wants out of New Delhi and into the affluent West, which wants his cheap labor but not his actual, sweaty, nonvirtual presence. Both sides deserve the havoc that he creates, in Kunzru's scheme, and a whole lot of characters are drawn together by the contagion Arjun has created. Among them is British branding expert Guy, who's hired by European Union authorities in Brussels to help make Europe seem even more the exclusive club, separated by a velvet rope from the Arjuns of the world clamoring to get in. As his client tells Guy of those being manipulated by his security-state razzle-dazzle, "People don't give a shit about power, not really, if it looks cool"—a manifesto that certainly echoes Italy in the '30s. Guy's girlfriend, movie publicist Gaby, has some reservations about such ruthlessness; her compassion comes into play when she's sent to Scotland to act as a minder for Leela herself (on location for a Bollywood musical), thereby bringing the cyberloop ever tighter among those—which is to say all of us—who depend on computers to make our living. Along the way, Arjun ventures to Redmond, allowing Kunzru to nicely sketch our SimCity-like "glossily pleasing, somehow placed" sense of perfection. Kunzru jumps a bit too glibly and superficially from culture to culture, enclave to enclave, and the permeable barriers between them. He juggles a lot of characters and ideas without really settling on one important theme. He's swimming a bit upstream from Po Bronson and Douglas Coupland while remaining a Niagara Falls below, say, Martin Amis in satiric focus. He makes us care about the Candide-like figure of Arjun, but ultimately disposes of him and the rest of Transmission's players like bits of code to be pitilessly zapped into oblivion, leaving no trace of the yearnings and the boundaries they sought to transcend. BRIAN MILLER

 
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