Date of Publication: 3 October 2006
Cover Price: $16.95
Having completely loved Satrapi's graphic novel memoirs, Persepolis, I was excited to discover Chicken with Plums among the new releases at the Oldham County Public Library the last time I was there. True, the hardback was published nearly three years ago, but since I hadn't read it yet I didn't care. This time, the writer/illustrator tells an embellished account of her mother's uncle, Nasser Ali Satrapi, who died 22 November 1958.
Chicken with Plums offers glimpses into Nasser's life, provided in flashbacks and the imaginings of Nasser and his immediate family. He was a musician, prominently skilled in playing the tar, which was his only means of maintaining peace and sanity in a home with an increasingly nagging wife and tiresome children. When his tar is destroyed during a spat with his wife, Nasser tries in vain to replace it...and failing that, elects to die.
Unlike Persepolis, which covers the bulk of the author's childhood years through her early adulthood, Chicken with Plums really tells the story of her great uncle's final week. The account she offers of his life is confined to just a handful of panels to expound upon a singular moment here or there. We are left with an image of Nasser Ali that is recognizable as a person, and yet our understanding of his life is as incomplete as his storyteller's simplistic artwork. I wished to know more about Nasser Ali and his life by the time I finished the 84th, and final, page, and there simply isn't any more story.
Fans of Persepolis will find many themes present in Nasser Ali's story. Indeed, it is easy to envision a young Marjane admiring her misfit uncle as a rebellious predecessor in the family. Even without the benefit of Satrapi's prior works, readers should have no difficulty identifying with the tale of a man confronted by a life that is no longer rewarding. The humor is sparse, for this is a tragic story, yet I did find myself chuckling a few times and even outright laughed aloud for nearly a minute at one point. We can all only hope that, when the time comes, someone as talented as Marjane Satrapi might care enough to tell our own stories.