Chicken With Plums
The newest book by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Embroideries) continues to explore Iranian culture through her deceptively minimal illustrations. Chicken With Plums tells the story of her great-uncle, an accomplished musician who decides to die. Nasser Ali Khan plays the tar (a lute-like stringed instrument), but after his instrument is destroyed, he gives up interest in life.
Set in 1958, the story explores the eight days he lasted, as he thinks about his family, his life choices, and what brought him to this point. In this, her fourth book, Satrapi’s simple style has become more accomplished. Her figures aren’t detailed, but their emotions are obvious and relatable, and the gridded pages are easy to follow. The approachability of the lumpy figures helps bridge cultural differences, emphasizing the humanity, even when the characters’ choices wouldn’t occur to traditional Americans.
At first, Nasser sets out to replace his tar, but he cannot find one with the right tone. A disastrous bus trip with his youngest child sheds light on problems in his family, ultimately leading to his resignation and withdrawal from life. Without his music, he has nothing left worth living for. He’s become disconnected from his wife and children long before, some due to his misconceptions about them.
During his decline, he thinks back to what drove the choice he made to marry as he did. His wife never understand the artistic personality, and he bowed to family pressure for the wrong reasons. In short, this deathbed reminiscence becomes a cautionary tale against settling. Marriage without love becomes toxic and hurtful.
Unfortunately, we see only hints of what turned his wife into the woman she became. She discovered that childish love may mean little when confronted with the practical hardships of everyday survival. She married for love; he didn’t; and both are miserable. He can’t let go of memories of his prior love, a woman whose father forbid their marriage because he was a musician.
Nasser is also visited by his children and his brother, thinks about the pleasures of the world — including his favorite dish, which gives the book its title — and reviews old hurts to his reputation and how others treated him. His suicide through neglect is a bit over-glamorized here, but it raises important questions of the nature of suffering in art.
A preview is available online.