Zahra’s Paradise: A Tragic, Heart-Wrenching Look at the Green Revolution

By Nicholas Slayton

The 2009 election in Iran, and its violent fallout, was a complex and complicated mess. From the elections to the final crackdown on the protesters by the Revolutionary Guard and the Basijis, Iran was thrown into a state of chaos and tragedy. Since that summer, the Green Movement and its struggle against an oppressive regime has been documented in books, documentaries, and now as a graphic novel.

Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of a mother trying to find her son Mehdi, lost amidst the Basij crackdown on protesters in Tehran. Told from the point of view of her blogger son, Hassan, the story is based on the real-life accounts of creators Amir and Khalil. Quickly the initial worry over Mehdi segues into panic, with added paranoia as the country descends into an oppressed nation with shadowy figures on every corner.

To call Zahra’s Paradise the Persepolis of the 2009 election would be a disservice to the book. It is similar in format, but a much different creature. Instead of just a singular autobiography, as Persepolis was, Zahra’s Paradise tackles the Green Movement in its entirety – everything from the protests, the student demonstrations, social media, visiting prisons, haunting trips to the morgue and more are fit into the pages.

It is a difficult read, despite the fictional main characters. Khalil’s art can be brutal at times, and Amir’s script is so captivating that it is hard not to get attached to the protagonist and mourn their tragedies. Despite the broad scope of the comic, things never feel tangential. Instead, Zahra’s Paradise manages to be both informative and entertaining.

Khalil’s art takes Amir’s words and brings them to expressive light. The simple black and white color palette and a slightly cartoonish style masks a mature style and a willingness toward experimentation. For comic book fans, Khalil’s style brings to mind Becky Cloonan’s art, with sharp features and expressive faces. The layouts are creative, offering parallel story elements. Sometimes the traditional panel layout is ignored outright, with the artist opting for loose art or the occasional MC Escher-esc splash page.

Zahra’s Paradise is a unique book. It stands as a powerful look into a failed political revolution and its painful aftermath. It is also a testament to the narrative power of the graphic novel. Amir and Khalil crafted a story as vivid and tragic as can be created on paper, and it stands alongside other classics such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus. For those looking to learn more about the protests, or for those seeking a compelling story, Zahra’s Paradise should not be ignored.

From Zahra's Paradise

From Zahra's Paradise

Republished from Aslan Media