Framed as an afternoon of tea-drinking around the samovar, Persepolis graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi’s
Embroideries is a loose-knit collection of personal tales told by her female relatives and neighbors in Tehran. In place of standard comic-book panels and neat letterings, Satrapi employs soft brushstrokes and blends illustrations, heightening the breezy atmosphere of chatting and gossiping. Stories of love, sex, tradition, and Western culture literally float across the page, the women’s discussion serving as a “ventilation of the heart.”

Most of the women in Embroideries have a lot to say about their bedroom encounters, though one unlucky relative, a mother of four, receives stares of disbelief when she admits that she has still “never seen the male organ.” An aunt recounts the time she left her philandering husband and became the mistress of her waltz partner, while another recalls climbing a garden wall to escape an arranged marriage at age 13. White magic, European lovers, and surgically reinstated virginity (in which a woman’s vaginal opening is “embroidered” shut, hence the book’s title) make up the triumphs and losses of this circle of women. Humorous and bawdy,
Embroideries is an amusing portrayal of independent women taking life in stride; as Satrapi’s grandmother sagely observes, “sometimes you’re on the horse’s back, and sometimes it’s the horse that’s on your back.”

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