Chicken with Plums

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Marjane Satrapi, creator of the wonderful Persepolis, has created this marvelous follow-up to her breakthrough book.

In 1958 Tehran, Nasser Ali Khan is one of Iran's most beloved tar musicians. (The tar is a stringed instrument similar to a lute. Derivations of the tar include the guitar and sitar.) However, one day his beloved instrument is destroyed beyond repair, and Nasser Ali cannot find a replacement.

No other instrument can bring Nasser Ali's passions to life the way that his broken instrument could. He is heartbroken at the turn that his life has taken, and he puts himself to bed to die.

Eight days later he is dead.

This book has a very different tone from Perseoplis. In that earlier graphic novel, the story was driven by the external events of the Iranian revolution and its effects on Satrapi's own family. This book is much more internally focused. It's a character study of the rather moody and immature Nasser Ali.

Nasser Ali is a great artist with his tar, but he's pretty much a failure elsewhere in his life. He is critically acclaimed for his musicianship, but he is a horrible provider for his wife and four children. He even seems to love his tar more than his family; tellingly, the only thing we ever see Nasser Ali hug in this story is his tar.

Satrapi always seems to depict Nasser Ali at a distance from his friends and family, with a face that never shows a shred of happiness. Though his wife and brother love him, and his children are bundles of energy, Nasser Ali never seems to be willing to even appear happy to anyone else. He is so trapped inside his own miserable mind that nothing will allow positive thoughts to fly into his head.

It turns out that the broken tar had very special meaning for him--a connection that is alluded to on the first page of the book, and which seems to come and go like a nagging ghost of a thought. As Satrapi masterfully weaves flashbacks and current scenes together, we start to get a sense of the decisions and events that have served to torture Nasser Ali over the years. As happens with so many people, a major loss during adolescence had a very strong impact on his entire life.

Satrapi uses some very clever techniques to allow her story to wend and flow around itself. She has a great sense of the use of blacks on her pages, and she employs some very exciting and unique techniques to move her story forward.

The plot of Chicken with Plums is a bit of a downer. However, in the hands of Satrapi, it's difficult to not be caught up in the beauty of the art and storytelling techniques. This is an intriguing story that is very well told.

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