Created by: Marjane Satrapi

ISBN: 0375423052 (Amazon)

Pages: 144


The embroideries of the book’s title refer to the surgical restoration of one’s vagina to a state similar to that of a virgin. Whether this includes hymen reconstruction or merely the tightening of an age-and-use-worn genitalia, Satrapi’s book never makes clear. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, probably. What is equally unclear is the reason for naming her extended anecdote in this way. Really, I just don’t know.

Embroideries covers the ground of a single afternoon’s conversation between ten women over tea. While the men of the household nap (after leaving the women to clean up the meal’s remains), the women banter and gossip, releasing the tensions of days and weeks and lifetimes as they speak. Catharsis through ribald storytelling. The topic never veers even once from stories of sex and the veiled sexuality of the last several decades in Iran. These are women of Tehran, several generations, and the lives they’ve led are each unique in their own ways. These women have struggled under a society that in some ways doesn’t value women as we do in the West—that is, as individuals with rights and hopes and dreams and desires. Their histories and choices have been hard and sometimes deeply unkind, yet as they unburden themselves, their souls find laughter.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

The work is rather inconsequential so far as plot and character are concerned. Satrapi seems content to leave this as a series of Polaroid moments, an anthology of brief visits into the lives of women whose sexual history is sometimes dumbfounding, sometimes tragic, and almost always humourous if one is willing to find the humour in the horrors of a repressed culture’s sexual hang-ups.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

For instance, what about the elderly woman who though long-married and the mother of four has never seen a penis? Or the girl who feared her new husband would discover she wasn’t any longer a virgin so she took a razor to their honeymoon bed and had it all go wrong? Or the girl who married an old man when she was thirteen years old? All the conversations are fairly explicit and that’s really a breath of fresh air when one considers the world these women inhabit.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

Despite being a rather inconsequential book in all the ways we commonly judge these things, there’s still something rather valuable in the telling of these stories. Readers, especially Western readers, are given window into a world beyond their experience, into stories that aren’t the mere fabric of imaginations but are the foundation of real lives. These women are not just the butts of Embroideries' jokes, they are its lifeblood. It’s only because they are real that any of this book matters. That these stories are veritas is what grants them their gravitas.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

And yet, the title still remains to me a mystery. Are these women’s sexual natures revitalized by the surgery of words? Not really. I suppose one could stretch things a bit and say that their circle is stitched tighter by the histories and embarrassments they share, but that’s still a bit unsatisfying. Or maybe the tight bond formed through their catharsis renders them refreshed and immune to the intrusion of men? Grasping here. Or perhaps there was something lost in the translation (from French to English) and I’ll just have to leave it to the realm of mystery.


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