Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Soup | Summary

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Summary

Marjane arrives in Vienna, where she thinks she will be treated like a daughter by her mother's best friend, Zozo. However, she finds Zozo is always yelling at her unemployed husband, Houshang, and their daughter, Shirin, is extremely materialistic and talks constantly of clothes and makeup. Within 10 days Zozo decides Marjane must leave; she sends her to live at a boarding house run by nuns. Marjane doesn't mind too much—the boarding house seems nice enough, and Marjane is excited to do adult things, such as shop for groceries, on her own. She takes enormous pleasure in the well-stocked grocery store even though she can afford only a few boxes of pasta and laundry detergent.

Marjane's roommate at the boarding house is Lucia, an Austrian who speaks only German. Marjane speaks Persian, French, and English but not German. The girls manage to communicate enough to share Lucia's cream of mushroom soup and pistachios Marjane brought from Iran. They join the other boarders to watch TV—a German-language movie. Since she doesn't understand the film, Marjane becomes uncomfortable and retreats to the room, but Lucia doesn't even notice.

Analysis

Marjane's introduction to Austria is a culture shock in every sense of the term. The language, food, and people are unfamiliar, and she feels lonely when everyone at the boarding house is laughing at a movie she can't understand. But Marjane was also lonely living with Zozo's family. Her experience there was perhaps even more of a culture shock than moving to a new country. Zozo, Houshang, and Shirin are all Persian, but they're nothing like Marjane's family. Zozo resents her husband, who seems resigned to the fact his wife only appreciated him when he earned a large salary. Shirin talks about frivolous things that mean nothing to Marjane. "People [are] dying in our country ... What a traitor!" Marjane thinks. It is hard for Marjane to understand how Persian people, even those living abroad, could care about anything except the war in their homeland. That's understandable. For years no one in Marjane's life has spoken of anything else. In Vienna not only does she have to learn a new culture, she also has to learn how to live outside a war zone. She soon finds old habits and thought patterns can be hard to break.

"The Soup" also gives readers a glimpse of what life is like for immigrants settling in a new country. In the previous chapters everyone who left Iran because of war or political persecution believed they were going to have much better lives abroad. Zozo and her family prove that's not always the case. Houshang was a wealthy executive in Iran, "but in Austria he was nothing." The family survives on Zozo's income as a hairdresser, which is partly why she is so bitter. Their experience is all too common for foreigners starting their lives anew in a different culture. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers moving to a new country often have difficulty finding jobs in their fields of expertise and instead are forced to take more labor-intensive blue-collar positions. Zozo and Houshang's story illustrates the disparity between hopes for life in an adopted country and the reality faced upon arrival. It also foreshadows the negative experiences still to come for Marjane, who also has high hopes for her new life in Austria.

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