19 September 2009

Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi

So, I'm probably one of the few people out there who really didn't like Persepolis. This might have something to do with the fact that I had read Maus not that long before, and I just wasn't ready to acknowledge the genius of anyone else's graphic novel autobiography. I dunno. Maybe I'll give it another try. But my friend Kasia and her husband Krzyƛ came to visit me this weekend and brought me Chicken With Plums as a gift. I woke up early the next morning in a flood of sunshine and started reading it, and was instantly absorbed. It's a wonderful, wry story, loving yet dark, really a wonderful book. I finished it in under an hour and felt, just, pleased. It was a pleasing book.

I don't want to give too much away, because I came to the book knowing nothing at all about it and the process of discovery was a large part of the pleasure, so I'll just tell you that the story is of a man named Nasser Ali Khan, a musician whose beloved instrument is broken. Unable to find another that can produce the same quality of sound, he lays down in his bed to die. It sounds grim, and it is, but the book is also curiously lighthearted without flinching away from the depressing sides, which are quite powerful. It ends up being this really kind of wonderful story, opening onto a lot of broader themes and issues, but not in a way that you can really restate without reducing.

The weakest moments are, first, when Satrapi lets you know that the main hero was actually her uncle ('cuz personally, I just don't really care. I suppose this is why I didn't like her autobiography. There's something about the way she describes her own life that I find tremendously off-putting), and second, when she adds a bit o' the ol' homespun wisdom, ie, the anecdote about the blind men touching the elephant. Look, we've all heard that anecdote a bazillion times. It's tired. It may be a wise tale, it may be appropriate to the moment in the text, but it just feels stale. And this coming from me, who loves elephants.

Otherwise, though, it's really just a wonderful book. Nice artwork too. Highly recommended.

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