Wednesday 26 March 2014
Devouring Books: Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis, which I read last year and LOVED, so when I found myself in a new-to-me library with time to spare and some Satrapi I hadn't read, what else was I to do but read Chicken With Plums in about an hour (and come away with Embroideries)? Nothing, that's what. In a similar way to Persepolis, Chicken With Plums is somewhat memoir-esque, only it's the story of her uncle* and his death. And it's kind of magnificent.
So, Satrapi's uncle, Nasser Ali Khan was a famous Tar** player in Iran, unhappily married with 4 children, and one day, after his wife broke his favourite Tar and probably because of, you know, underlying mental illness, he decided to lay down in his bed and just die. This book documents the eight days he stayed in bed before he died.
And, it's pretty great. It's heartbreaking without being emotionally manipulative, with just the right amounts of sadness and frustration (PLEASE just get out of bed, man!) and empathy for his poor family, and in the end, for him too. Since Nasser Ali Khan died 11 years before Satrapi was born, there were definitely points where I questioned how much of this was actually true, BUT (crucially) in the end I don't think it really mattered- I believed in the story completely as it was, and I didn't really mind whether all of these things actually happened to Khan or not. They happen in the book, and that's good enough for me.
As I've said, I don't have a clue how to analyse the drawing side of things, but... I liked the drawings? So there's that, and I also liked the way the past and present were distinguished between by having a dark background for the flashbacks, the things that Khan recalls as he lays dying, and a lighter background for the present. In a way, I almost want it to be the other way round, in that Khan's mood and state of mind in the present are clearly darker than in most of his past, but at the same time, the darkness of the past shows how what we remember is never perfect, always a little bit shaded.
Chicken With Plums was moving and upsetting and very very well done. Whilst it didn't challenge me, or make me think as much as Persepolis did, I was still completely engaged with it for the whole hour or so it took to read, and that's pretty much good enough for me. As long as I enjoy a graphic novel, I'm pretty much always inclined to recommend it, because, you know, they take like an hour to read, but I really think this one is more than worth your time. As long as you don't mind being a tiny bit sad, that is.
*Satrapi calls him her uncle, but he seems to actually be her mum's uncle... So her great uncle, I guess.
**A tar seems to be like a kind of violin rather than having anything to do with a guitar. But the name fooled me, too.