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Marji is devastated by the break-up with Markus since she relied on him for emotional support and he was the only person in Vienna to whom she was fully attached. As she’s crying in her room, Frau Doctor Heller accuses Marji of stealing a broach that she has misplaced, and Marji tells her to go to hell. Missing her family in Iran, Marji puts on a coat to go outside and as she walks toward the front door, her landlady shouts at her again about the broach. Marji replies, “Go fuck yourself!” to Frau Heller and slams the door as she leaves. Marji sits on a park bench all day and into night thinking back on her relationship with Markus. Marji realizes that Markus was a jerk who took advantage of her insecurities. Years later she will reassess their relationship and admit that some of their problems stemmed from her, but for now Marji is in deep despair. Rather than going back to the hateful Frau Heller’s home, Marji lives on the streets.
Marji spends two months in the middle of winter living on the streets of Vienna, which takes a toll on her health. She develops a cough that worsens until she starts to spit up blood and collapses. When Marji wakes up, she is in the hospital. Marji is told that she’s had severe bronchitis and ordered to stop smoking. Having no place to go, Marji remembers her mother telling her that Zozo owes her 3000 shillings. When Marji goes to Zozo’s to collect the money, Zozo tells her that her parents have been trying to reach her. The phone rings and Zozo announces that Marji’s parents are on the line. When Marji speaks to them, it is agreed that she will return home to Tehran. Marji stays in a hotel for the five days until her flight, smoking in spite of the doctor’s orders. Finally, Marji packs for the trip back to Iran. She dons a veil, symbolically bidding farewell to her individual and social liberties, and admits to herself that she badly needs to go home.
Even though the Iran-Iraq war has ended, when Marji arrives at the Tehran airport and goes through security she feels the repressiveness of Iranian society in the air. Her parents—particularly her father, who hasn’t seen Marji since she was fourteen—have trouble recognizing her in the crowd, but they eventually do and drive home. Once there, Marji is comforted by the surroundings, especially her bedroom. The next morning, Marji shares tea and (much to Marji’s surprise) cigarettes with her mother. Marji dodges a call from her childhood best friend and decides to take a long walk around Tehran to readjust to her new setting. But she’s horrified by the changes that have come to her city in the years she was away—including massive murals, war slogans, and street name changes all dedicated to the “martyrs” (those dead from war). Marji likens it to walking around a cemetery and is haunted by the reminders of those killed in a war that she had fled.
Marji returns home to her mother, and later her father gets home from work—explaining that he’s very much in demand as an engineer now that the war has ended. Her father tells Marji that he believes the eight-year war had been a pretext orchestrated by Israel and the West to weaken both Iran and Iraq militarily by killing off a generation of young men. Marji’s father goes on to describe a chapter of the war at its end that she’d not heard about in Vienna. He tells her that as the war was winding down, the regime was vulnerable to Iranian mujahideen (soldiers) who reentered Iran from Iraq, intent on overthrowing the fundamentalists. He says that the fighters were counting on the support of the people, but since they’d entered from Iraq, the people were suspicious of them and the government troops were able to wipe them out. Scared because the mujahideen would have released the imprisoned Iranian political prisoners had they been successful, the regime responds by executing tens of thousands of the prisoners, whom her father says were the true heirs of the revolution and the nation’s intelligentsia.
Marji reflects upon what her parents and Iran have been through while she was away and decides that she won’t burden anyone by telling them of her travails in Vienna over the past four years.
In “The Veil,” suffering and trauma are brought into sharp focus as Marji’s time in Vienna comes to an end. Her desperate, unfulfilled need for connection acts like a veil, and it obscures all of the problems in her relationship with Markus. It becomes clear that Marji has projected all of her needs onto him, and this act has blinded her to the truth. Marji’s life is now defined by what it lacks. She has no boyfriend. She has no friends. She has no home. Frau Doctor Heller’s abuse is too much to bear on top of the breakup, and the scene implies that the woman believes that all foreigners are dishonest. Even far more dehumanizing is the difficult experience of being homeless. Homelessness reframes Marji’s life so her only concern is survival. As the large panel with the twisty train ride conveys, she has no direction. The nine-panel page of a coughing Marji shows how completely alone and unwell she is, but Marji’s hospital stay forces her to put her trauma in perspective. She cannot reconcile dealing with a cheating boyfriend or struggling to fit in with trying to survive eight years of war. Though it comes with feelings of failure, the experience helps Marji to reorient herself and take pride in who she is and what she has done. In considering her trauma and suffering, Marji fuels her decision to return to Iran.
“The Return” revisits the theme of identity as Marji returns to an unrecognizable Iran. Back in Iran, Marji must confront the reality she so carefully avoided: her home is not what it used to be and neither is she. Marji’s realization that her ideal notion of home does not exist results in her ongoing struggle for identity in postwar Iran. Marji’s childhood posters that hold no appeal, the veil that seems so foreign to her, and the murals of the martyrs on the buildings are all symbols of the change that’s occurred both in Iran and within Marji herself. While in Vienna, she attempted to ignore the problems in her home country, but now she cannot. Discussing the war with her father reinforces for Marji that her problems in Vienna were trivial compared to the suffering and trauma in Iran. Her shock and sadness at the number of executed political prisoners is depicted in a stark, full-page panel that conveys the overwhelming human cost in dark detail. The image is overwhelming. Her country and its people have been forever changed, and she has personally experienced a loss of innocence.