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Graphic Literature

from A Short Guide to Being the Perfect Political Refugee

By Mana Neyestani
Translated by Ghazal Mosadeq
With echoes of Maus and Persepolis, this graphic memoir of immigration brings the experience of seeking asylum vividly to life.
On a normal day, the distance from the sidewalk to the front door of police headquarters can be covered in ten seconds.

(A man in glasses, presumably the narrator, carries a sheaf of red documents and walks towards an open doorway.)
But on days the station is open to refugees, it can take three hours to reach the door!

(A crowd waits; the man in glasses from the first picture is at the very end of the line. From behind the door, an unseen voice shouts: "Next!")
(The man in glasses waits at the back of a winding line. At the front of the line, an officer is chastising a hopeful refugee.)

IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: "How many times must I say it? Your documents are incomplete. Incomplete!"

[At the police station]
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL 1: "Take off your hat."
(The man in glasses removes hat, looking worried.)
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL 2: "Turn off your phone."
(A woman holding a phone obeys.)

Bear in mind that at the police station you're likely to hear one word over and over:

IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL 1: "Next."
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL 2: "Next."
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL 3: "Next."
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL 1: "Next."

(Sandwiched between the enormous profiles of the immigration officials, worried people wait in line. The man in glasses is among them.)

IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL 2: "Next."
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: "Your application is incomplete."
MAN IN GLASSES: "I... not... speak... French."
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: "I-N-C-O-M-P-L-E-T-E."

A real refugee could have foreseen the arrival of this day when he would file for asylum in France when still a child and would have endeavored to learn French.

(A new frame: a proud child displays a cartoon of an imam.)

MOTHER: "Darling, come look at this: this child has all the signs he'll have a promising future as a refugee. We should enroll him in French classes!"
They give you a form to fill out...and a number. During your time at police headquarter, this number is your identity.

(The man in glasses holds up his number: A23.)
Lose it and there will be no way to identify you!

(A line of refugees wait in line, each with a number instead of a face: 23, 56, B17, B13, 36, A23, 43, 48, A16, 100, 19, 1, B72, C35, 17, C8, B56, 92, 123... The person at the front has no number, and thus is headless.)

IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL to a headless refugee: "You lost it? How are we supposed to know who you are without that number?"
HEADLESS REFUGEE: "I...I don't know!"
IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: This is not a recent photo. MAN IN GLASSES: Believe me, I took it the day before yesterday.

Don't forget to bring your money with you because you'll have to take a photo at police headquarters each and every time you go there.

(A giant hand reaches out from the photo booth to take the man's coins.)
Your face must be right in the middle of the green oval on the screen. Even if you give your best effort you still might not manage. You probably haven't adjusted your chair low enough.

(The man in glasses contorts himself into several positions, finally managing to place his face inside the green oval.)

You'll have to retake the photo anyway because photos with glasses are not allowed.
The police will open a file for you and take your fingerprints. The fingerprint scanner is usually out of order.

IMMIGRATION AGENT to MAN IN GLASSES: "Turn your hand, sir!"

They'll take your fingerprints over and over again, in vain.
(The immigration agent hits the man's hand with a hammer.)

MAN IN GLASSES (holding out his own dismembered hand): "Could I leave my hand here for when the machine begins working again?"
(The immigration agent smiles.)
In some cases, due to inadequate fingerprints, your case will be pending and you should book another appointment a few weeks or months later, an action which will delay the processing of your file for a further few months.

(An array of giant blue fingerprints litters the background, above which are written dates in French: 15 Décembre, 19 Avril, 5 Février, 23 Mai, and 7 Mars. The refugee stands frustrated and shaking in the center of these fingerprints.)

Le Petit manuel du parfait réfugié politique © 2015 Arte Éditions/Éditions çà et là. By arrangement with the publisher. Rights arranged by the Nicolas Grivel Agency. Translation © 2016 by Ghazal Mosadeq. Lettering by Irvin Carsten. All rights reserved.

Read About Bios Context Explore Teaching Ideas

Le Petit manuel du parfait réfugié politique © 2015 Arte Éditions/Éditions çà et là. By arrangement with the publisher. Rights arranged by the Nicolas Grivel Agency. Translation © 2016 by Ghazal Mosadeq. Lettering by Irvin Carsten. All rights reserved.

In this satirical “guide”, cartoonist Mana Neyestani draws on his own experience as an Iranian refugee in Paris. 

Mana Neyestani

Television image of Neyestani during an interview with VOA Persian, 2010.

Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani was born in Tehran. For several years, he worked for the government magazine Iran. His use of an Azeri word for “cockroach” in a children’s cartoon published in May 2006 triggered riots among the Azeri minority, already persecuted by the Iranian government. The newspaper closed and Neyestani spent months in prison. Upon his release he emigrated to Malaysia and now lives in Paris. He received the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Prize from the Cartoonists Rights Network International in 2010.

Ghazal Mosadeq (translator)

Writer and translator Ghazal Mosadeq

Ghazal Mosadeq is an award-winning writer and poet. She is the winner of the Bayhaqi Short Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Khorshid Poetry Prize. She has published three poetry collections, Dar Jame Ma (2010), Biographies (2015), and Supernatural Remedies for Fatal Seasickness (2018). Her poems and short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines in Iran, Canada, the UK, Portugal, and Greece. Actively involved in creating and promoting a dialogue between Persian and English literary traditions, she has embarked on translation from Persian to English and vice versa, and is involved in leading and producing creative writing workshops in Iran, the UK, and Canada. She is the editor of the Saan Literary Quarterly in Iran and a member of the jury for the Haft Eghlim Literary Award, as well as for the Jamalzadeh Award for Nonfiction.  

Meet Author Mana Neyestani

Television image of Neyestani during an interview with VOA Persian, 2010.

Say the Names

Listen to pronunciations of the Persian names in this story, read aloud by Mandana Naviafar.

(Listen on SoundCloud.)

Why Leave Iran?

Neyestani’s biography explains: 

His use of an Azeri word for “cockroach” in a children’s cartoon published in May 2006 triggered riots among the Azeri minority, already persecuted by the Iranian government. The newspaper closed and Neyestani spent months in prison.

You can read Neyestami’s memoir of these events, “An Iranian Metamorphosis,” in the magazine WWB; and watch the documentary “Metamorphosis, Iranian Style,” below. (In Persian with English subtitles.) 

(Watch on YouTube.)

Why Come to Paris?

Find out why an Iranian immigrant might come to Paris, in particular, in this entry from Columbia University’s Encyclopedia Iranica.

How to Be an Alien

Learn about the inspiration behind Neyestani’s book, and read another story of immigration, in Paul Smalera’s memoir/review.

HowToBeAnAlien.jpg

Cover of the book How to be an Alien, created by Nicolas Bentley, 1946.

Iran

New to learning about Iran? Read the country’s profile on encyclopedia.com.

More from the Author

Read an excerpt from Mana Neyestani’s memoir of the events that forced him to leave Iran, An Iranian Metamorphosis.

Panels from “An Iranian Metamorphosis,” showing a blindfolded prisoner walking, and a man telling him, “Good morning, Mr. Neyestani. Sorry I have bad news.”

Then, read an interview he gave in 2010, shortly after leaving Iran: Two sorts of red lines. (The interviewer has a political perspective that comes across in the piece.)

“Jihadists!” “Refugees?” See more work from Mana Neyestani on the United Sketches website.

You can read Neyestami’s entire 2003 collection, Tout va Bien! (“Everything is going well!”), in Sampsonia Way, an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/ Pittsburgh.

Mana Neyestani on Social Media

Watch a YouTube video that sets Neystani’s drawings to electronic music. (Some explicit language).

Or, find Neyestani on Facebook, where he has several hundred thousand followers.

More from the Translator

Writer and translator Ghazal Mosadeq

The translator of this story, Ghazal Mosadegh, is also a fiction writer and poet. Read her story “Ney Boulevard,” which was inspired, in part, by “A Short Guide to Being the Perfect Political Refugee.” Below, Mosadegh explains how translating Neyestani’s story inspired her own:  

“My comic book writer and cartoonist friend Mana Neyestani, who had gone through the whole process of applying for asylum in Paris, was of great help with the details. When he told me that the Préfecture de Police is located on a street called Ney Boulevard, the story began to take shape.”

Finally, you can find more fiction from Mosadegh in her book Biographies, “extra-ordinary biographies plus ordinary chairs,” available from Susak Press.

"A real refugee would . . ."

Read, watch, and listen to contemporary stories about immigration to the United States and migration around the world, beginning with Mohammed Elsaleh’s TEDx talk “The Refugee Crisis: Coming to a Doorstep Near You.” 

Then, read 9 myths and facts about immigration from the Anti-Defamation League.  

You can find more stories of refugees and immigrants in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and in the UN’s video archive

Poetry about Refugees

For poems, articles, and audio/video recordings about the experiences of refugees, check out the Poetry Foundation’s “Poems on Immigration” collection.

More Stories of Leaving Home

The cover of Dina Nayeri’s The Ungrateful Refugee

For another story about leaving Iran, read Dina Nayeri’s memoir The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You.

Interested in reading more about refugees from other parts of the world? Check out The Displaced, an anthology of essays by refugee writers edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen. 

(Note: both of these titles were recommended by Lesley Williams in this list of literatures of exile).

More Genre-Bending Literature*

Panel from Ilya Kitup’s “The Only True Guide to Russia: Hidden Secrets Revealed.”

*For Teaching Idea 1

More Comics and Comix*

Also available on this website, these stories use classic comic techniques in new ways: 

Marjane Satrapi mg 7514.jpg

Marjane Satrapi speaking at the film premiere of Persepolis, 2007. By Rama.

*For Teaching Idea 2

1. Playing with Genre: Guides and Comics
2. Comix vs. Bureaucracy, Humor as Resistance
To access these Teaching Ideas, please register or login to WWB-Campus.
English

Le Petit manuel du parfait réfugié politique © 2015 Arte Éditions/Éditions çà et là. By arrangement with the publisher. Rights arranged by the Nicolas Grivel Agency. Translation © 2016 by Ghazal Mosadeq. Lettering by Irvin Carsten. All rights reserved.

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