In Chicken with Plums, Marjane Satrapi writes about tar musician Nasser Ali, a great-uncle of hers who decides to die after his wife destroys his tar in a heated argument. He tries and tries to find another tar that will be the equal of the one that was destroyed, but even the best of tars will not make the music he imagines. He lies down on his bed and stays there for eight days, upon which he dies. Chicken with Plums follows him through those eight days, through visits and memories and dreams and hallucinations.
The good: Marjane Satrapi charms me. She writes with wry humor that spares no one, and interweaves the story of Nasser Ali with the history of Iran. Despite how much I don’t care for Nasser Ali, the story is still emotionally effective. I love how she used black backgrounds for the flashback sequences, many of which depicted the early relationship of Nasser Ali and his wife. The shading difference provided a great visual reminder of how much their relationship has changed since they were first in love.
The bad (for me): I wanted to slap Nasser Ali. This may have been the intended effect, but it took away from my enjoyment of the book. He had children! And left him! And was unkind to his little son! I do not condone the breaking of his tar, but mercy, I can see how his wife was driven to it. So all the time he was moping in bed and refusing to get up and eat and talk to anyone, I was muttering unkind things about him under my breath. Esp. after the chapter about praying for people not to die. Hmph. Absent parents, v. bad.
I have heard that you are not supposed to need to identify with the characters in books, but when I read a book with a protagonist that I think is a jerk, I often reach a place where I can’t be bothered reading any more. Especially people who are whiny. That’s why I couldn’t get on with Catcher in the Rye. How do you manage books with unsympathetic protagonists?
Other reviews of Chicken with Plums: A Life in Books, State of Denmark, The Written World, Out of the Blue, and let me know if I missed yours!
Sometimes books can make me feel for people despite their jerkiness, and I like it when that happens. I see your point about Holden, but I was introduced to him when I was a bit of a whiny kid myself, so there’ll always be a place in my heart for him 😛 Anyway, this sounds awfully sad, even if Nasser Ali was being an idiot.
I love that thing that Fitzgerald says in Gatsby, “they were careless people, Tom and Daisy, they smashed things up and then retreated” – something like that, I hope I’m not mangling it too terribly. I think what I find most difficult to forgive in a protagonist is that sort of carelessness of others. So with Nasser Ali, I found it frustrating because he was gone from his family long before he decided to go, and his life and death just seemed so careless, to leave his family behind that way.
…Though whiny is also extremely annoying, and often goes hand in hand with this same brand of self-regarding carelessness.
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