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!
I don’t know what I can really say about Persepolis that hasn’t been said already. What I love about the first volume of Persepolis is that it’s always about how Marjane interprets the events around her, much more than it is about the events themselves. As she and her family live through the Islamic Revolution, watching its agenda shift and their country change around them, little Marjane acts on what she thinks she understands. There’s a lovely bit where she insists on spending all her time with an uncle who’s a political dissident. Although she is initially interested in him because of his history of persecution by the government, their relationship is very sweet, in the end, and his death leads to a major change in Marjane’s ideas for her future.
I like memoirs. But even if you don’t like memoirs, Persepolis is worth reading because it’s a good story. Marjane Satrapi tells the story of the revolution matter-of-factly, the atrocities of the old government and the new, and we see the development of her own thinking from a child’s simplistic view to something with more depth to it. I like that because it juxtaposes nicely with what’s happening in Iran as she matures: Marjane begins to see in shades of grey, while the new government refuses to do so. Hurrah for coming-of-age stories!
And in the second volume, Marjane goes to Austria for school and struggles to find her place there. She goes through a lot while she’s there, all depressed and isolated and using the drugs and becoming homeless, and then when she comes back to Iran finally, she no longer fits in there either. Everyone in Iran has been all with the war, and the bombing and the oppression, and she feels like her problems don’t mean anything in comparison. I found the second volume hard to read. When Marjane leaves again eventually, permanently this time, I cried. Leaving in airports is sad.