Sunday, June 23, 2013

On the Coffee Table: Marjane Satrapi

Title: Chicken with Plums
Author and Artist: Marjane Satrapi
Image via Of Books and Reading

Satrapi is the creator of the seminal Persepolis, an autobiographical comic series originally published in French which became an international publishing and film sensation (my review here).  Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux Prunes in French) tells the story of the final days in the life of Nasser Ali Khan, a relative of Satrapi's. Whereas Persepolis was serialized, Chicken with Plums was published whole as a graphic novel.

The story is dark, both literally and figuratively.  Khan is a professional musician in 1958 Tehran, a master of the tar, a traditional Iranian plucked string instrument.  He goes into a depression spiral when his wife breaks his treasured tar in a fit of rage.

(Ethnomusicological aside: the similarity in the words guitar, tar and sitar - not to mention the similarities in those instruments' designs - is not coincidental.  We have the Islamic Empire to thank for that - as well as many other substantial contributions to world culture.)

Eventually, Khan decides he wants to die. Rather than taking the direct approach to suicide, he secludes himself in his bedroom, waiting for death to come to him.  Over the course of eight days, we learn the causes of his misery - mainly a lost love from his youth and a marriage to a woman for whom he has little if any affection.  The confrontation with mortality is both deeply personal and heartbreaking for all involved.

A high proportion of the panels are set against a black background.  Nearly all of the characters are in dark clothing as well, occasionally even depicted in silhouette. One of the most chilling images of the book is of a family sitting around the television watching news of the Iran-Iraq war breaking out - black silhouettes against a black background.

If you are new to Satrapi's work, I'd recommend beginning with PersepolisChicken with Plums is a worthy follow-up.

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