October 12, 2006

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Chicken With Plums, By Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon Books, 2006, 84 pages)

In Chicken With Plums, Marjane Satrapi, the author behind the addictively good Persepolis and Perseoplis 2 and their companion Embroideries, mines her family once again, this time for the story of her great uncle Nasser Ali Khan, one of Iranís most popular musicians.

It is Tehran 1958 and he has decided to die. Not kill himself, just go to bed and wait for death. He does this partly because his favorite tar (a string instrument) has been destroyed and partly because he sees the finality in a lost love ó she is gone and has forgotten him. Nasserís defeated, completely, and most of the book follows the eight days it takes him to get from his decision to his grave. He sees the angel of death, a sister, a Sophia Loren, the lost love, his brother and his mother ó some of them in memories, some in hallucinations, some in the flesh. Clearly a sad guy, Nasser allowed himself to be pushed into marriage but couldnít quite bring himself to be happy with it. (Moral of this story: donít marry someone just because your mom thinks itís a good idea).

And then, he dies.

Satrapiís story is illustrated with the same rounded black-and-white figures typical of all of her graphic novel works. Something in the way that she draws the people of Iran makes the country and its pre-revolutionary existence seem romantic, a little dangerous and a bit sad, like 1930s Europe where shadows thick with meaning seem everywhere.

Chicken With Plums looks great and spins a romantic yarn, romantic but thin. The layers, the swirls of emotion that make the Persepolis books so engrossing are missing here (which makes sense to some degree; those books where Satrapiís own stories, not stories handed down to her). Whereas those books are a one-sitting read because you donít dare walk away, Chicken With Plums feels like a snack of a book, something easily devoured in one bite and leaving you with a bit of an empty feeling. B-

ó Amy Diaz