Review: Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Title: Chicken with Plums
Author: Marjane Satrapi
First Published: 2006
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Source: Library
84 pages




In a nutshell
Nasser Ali Khan's beloved instrument, the tar, is irreparably broken and finds that no matter how many tars he try, none of them sound right to me. Convinced that he will never find a good tar, he decides to take to his bed and let go of his life. The rest of the book shows the next few days in his life, as the reader comes to understand the breadth of his decision through flashbacks and through his relationships with other members of his family.

I am a big fan a Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels. This is yet another one that didn't disappoint, and I connected with this book more than I expected to.

I think...
Marjane Satrapi's skills as a storyteller are amazing. There is humor throughout her books, as they tell the state of affairs. None of her books are light in matter though. While they are meant to be enjoyed, there are usually very important messages and social or political themes in them. Her Persepolis I and II are her memoirs during the Iranian revolution. Embroideries brings together the wonderful women in her family one day at tea, when they share their very sexual problems in life and issues with their husbands/ex-husbands/boyfriends. Chicken with Plums follows Nasser Ali Khan's life as a musician, a lover, and a husband.

I found Chicken with Plums more complex than the other books. In addition, it was done in a suspenseful format, as opposed to the previous books of hers that I have read, which I found to be written in a contemporary style. Within the first 18 pages, the reader already knows what happens, and is even told why it happens. The remaining 60-odd pages of the book give us a portrait of Nasser Ali Khan as he waited for his death. Nasser Ali Khan is shown as a self-conceited selfish person initially. We see him in the first few pages as he is seen by the other characters in the book. It is when he decides to die, that Marjane starts showing him through his experiences. His flashbacks morph his character further, as we understand how he arrived at his deathbed.

What I loved most about the book was how very wrong my understanding of Nasser turned out to be. Can a person really decide to give up on his life just because his instrument got damaged? I tried to put myself in Nasser's situation. I'm sure I would be devastated, but how can I even take such a decision that cuts all my links with every person I love? I highly admonished Nasser for his train of thought. Even after all the flashbacks and the complexity of the decision was revealed, I can't say I forgave him, I can't say I appreciated what he did, since it still smacked of selfishness. He was putting his desire above his children's lives (four, that too). But I appreciated that it wasn't a childish decision either.

The character I loved the most is Nasser's son, Mozaffar, who is so talkative that no one on their bus during a journey slept due to his incessant chatter. I almost felt sorry for Nasser's wife, Nahid, seeing Nasser not give her much regard. Nahid clearly loved and cared for Nasser. Nasser, however, is too blinded by his past to notice.

One thing I found particularly touching was the idea that the person you least appreciate is probably the one who loves you the most. This is something I've experienced in real life and something I've come across many times in plenty of books. Chicken with Plums touched a nerve with that theme, through one single picture that spoke volumes. You could almost feel sorry for the particular person, and it makes you want to shake Nasser, and tell him to open his eyes and look at the people around him, without being so self-obsessed.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to, mainly because it had more in it than I assumed there would be. This book isn't a simple retelling of the fourteen days of a man's life as he waited to die. You could almost see the shock on my face as I turned the last page, as the enormity of the tar's damage clicked into place. The last few pages turn several wheels into place, you could almost hear the clicks as the gears engaged. You know some of those scenes, where piece after disparate piece falls together to form this enormous picture, and with each piece comes a thought of comprehension? That's how it felt reading this book. I will recommend this book to everyone, but it will be easier reading it if you have already read her Persepolis books.

What did you think?
Have you read this book? I'd like to know what you thought about it. Please leave your review link in the comments, or a brief opinion, if you hadn't reviewed it.

11 comments:

Marg said...

I read Persepolis I and II a number of years ago, and I have been waiting in vain for my library to get hold of the other books by these authors because I really would like to read them, including this one.

The1stdaughter said...

This sounds fantastic! I've never even heard of Satrapi, but I like how involved her story line sounds, especially for a graphic novel. Great review! I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her books! Thank you!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read this book, but I did read The Complete Persepolis and have been wanting to explore more of the author's work ever since. This sounds fantastic!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Interesting. I've never heard of this one before.

Alyce said...

I hadn't realized that Marjane Satrapi had graphic books other than the Persepolis books. I'll have to see if I can hunt this down.

Carina said...

I absolutely love Satrapi, and I've had this one on my radar for a few months now. I'm definitely going to have to pick it up soon!

Aarti said...

This sounds really good- what a fabulous, thorough review you wrote! Great work :-)

Aths said...

Marg, I hope you get her other books soon! They are such wonderful reads!

Danielle, you SHOULD read Marjane Satrapi. If you were sitting with me now, I will probably be raving about her to you. LOL!

Kathy, Persepolis was so awesome! You should try her Embroideries and Chicken with Plums too!

Juju, I hope you will try it!

Alyce, I hope you get them! I didn't much realize she had other books either. Now I wish I hadn't read them, because I feel like reading more of her works.

Carina, you should let me know how you find it, should you read it.

Aarti, thank you! :) It was a great read, you should give it a try!

niranjana said...

You seem to have got hold of my TBR list! I've been planning to read Climbing the Stairs and this one too, as I loved Persepolis. Great review!

Ash said...

I'm really glad you enjoyed this! I liked it a lot too, more than I thought I would. I totally agree about my perception of Nasser being wrong in the beginning, I couldn't figure out why he was so upset over something so seemingly stupid. I sympathized with his wife though.

Aths said...

Niranjana, I can't wait to hear your thoughts on both books, when you read them.

Ash, your review was the main reason I finally picked this book up! I loved how this book created certain assumptions in the beginning, and later cleared things up, in a way only a nonfiction can do!