In Embroideries, Marjane Satrapi blends the graphic novel and literary fiction formats skillfully, creating a valuable portrayal of romantic life for women living in Iran. The story begins at an afternoon family gathering after the men have left the room. With no men present, the women feel free to discuss their most intimate experiences, most of which seem, from a Western perspective, painfully stifled by cultural constraints.
The story is told from multiple perspectives across generations. The grandmother brags about how her opium addiction gave her eyes a languid look that attracted men when she attended parties in her youth. The grandmother also tells the story of friend who was in love with another man before she was married. Because she was not a virgin on her wedding night, she was afraid her husband would be angry. The grandmother advised the friend to take a small razor bade and cut herself to leave a small bloodstain on the sheets. Unfortunately, she panicked and cut her new husband’s testicles instead. They went on to have a very happy marriage, presumably because the woman humbled her husband in the beginning.
Another woman speaks quite frankly about her decision to have cosmetic surgery to redirect her husband’s wandering eyes to her. She laughs about how when her husband pays attention to her breasts, he is really attracted to fat that used to be in her behind.
Marriage to foreigners is also dealt with. One woman sits next to her new husband’s handsome portrait on her wedding day never having met him in person.
Another woman is married to a man who promises to take her abroad. They marry, and she receives many expensive pieces of jewelry. After waiting three months, she meets him again in Germany only to discover he has many mistresses and the marriage was a plot to smuggle jewels.
The most intriguing story deals with a woman who has never seen a penis, even though she has three children. Because her husband only comes to her in the dark and it is over very quickly, she feels that she is missing out on something other women know about.
Other minor issues these stories touch upon are the use of fortunetellers to make love matches and the advantages of becoming a man’s mistress instead of his wife. Mistresses have the advantage of being kept women but never dealing with the man’s dirty socks or bad moods.
The book is hand-lettered, and the drawing is simple enough so these could be any women, lending the stories a universal quality. The narrative is so personal, it is easy to put yourself in the places of all the women despite the vast differences between the freedom of Western sexual relationships and the constraints put on women in Middle Eastern marriages.