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CHICKEN WITH PLUMS by Marjane Satrapi

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS

By Marjane Satrapi

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-375-42415-6
Publisher: Pantheon

Satrapi (Embroideries, 2005, etc.) recalls the tragic final days of her great-uncle, an Iranian musician who died of a broken heart after his wife destroyed his favorite instrument.

Set for the most part in Tehran circa 1958, this graphic memoir tells the story of Nasser Ali Khan, a renowned master of the tar, an Iranian stringed instrument. A man of taciturn demeanor and moodiness, Khan believes himself too much of an artist to perform non-creative labor; he barely contributes to the household upkeep with either work or money. Not surprisingly, his firecracker of a wife doesn’t take well to this attitude and eventually cracks, snapping his beloved tar in two and sending Khan to his bed, where he grows gloomy and frets. This day-by-day reconstruction shows Khan’s wife and brother trying to rouse him back to the land of the living. But his artist’s pride (the tar was Stradivarius-like in its perfection) is not easily mended. As always, Satrapi’s artwork is simple and expressive, with its rich pools of black ink and swooping, lyrical curlicues. Only occasionally does she break out of a strict frame-to-frame design, but when she does, the results are breathtaking. One beautiful page depicts the family of one of Khan’s sons seated around the TV: In the top half, they’re happy and chatty, watching a woman sing; in the bottom, all is in perditious shadow, a bearded man lecturing on the screen, with the text reading simply, “But in 1980 war erupted and that was the end of happiness.” Unfortunately, the volume is so short that the story doesn’t have enough time to take root, and what could have been an emotional and heart-rending drama becomes instead an intriguing footnote.

A thin sliver of illustrated memoir that barely hits its stride before fading away.