The Complete Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi
The Complete Persepolis - which I think actually compiles two novels, Persepolis and its sequel Persepolis 2 - is an autobiographical graphic novel telling the story of Marjane, a girl who grows up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The story, as Satrapi mentions in her preface, is in part a corrective to the West's impression of Iran as a place of terrorism and extremism.
I'm not sure it corrects that view so much as complicates it. Certainly it's critical of the oppressive Islamic regime that took power in 1979, and especially its effect on the rights of women. It makes clear in heart-wrenching detail some of the sacrifices and the tragedies that ordinary Iranian people faced during the revolution and during the wars. But it also paints a picture of a nation that's more liberal and more modern - at least behind closed doors, in the cities - than the one we commonly imagine: a middle class that throws clandestine alcoholic parties and buys black-market music quite easily. Marjane and her family are very much people on whom a near-dystopic regime is imposed; they love their country and its history, but aren't made extensions of it.
One of the interesting things about the book, which I didn't think about until halfway through, is that it's drawn in black and white, which means that none of the characters look Iranian; or, rather, their Iranian-ness isn't made obvious. That, particularly, comes into play in the middle section of the book, when Marjane is sent to Europe by her parents to continue her education outside the regime's influence. Her difference is marked to the European characters by her looks; but to the reader (an extension of Marjane's consciousness) she (and her family) is no different. We shouldn't have to be told this, of course, but knowing something intellectually is different to being confronted with it visually, and I think this de-othering is part of the book's project.
This raises all sorts of questions about Westernisation, though, something which the book's doing deliberately. It's worth saying again: we shouldn't need a book like this to explain a country and a culture to us (though I'm not debating that we do need it). It feels like it's both aligning with Western-centrism and indicting it at the same time.