BOOK REVIEW – MARJANI SATRAPI – CHICKEN WITH PLUMS 2006 Jonathon Cape.
Haunting, sad and yet witty true story about an unusual suicide, written in a beautifully drawn graphic novel format.
The author’s great uncle, (who she never met), Nasser Ali, was a famous Tar player in Iran in the mid 1950’s. When his beloved instrument is snatched from him and broken by his wife during a bitter argument, Ali struggles to find another Tar that could match it for sound. Failing to find one that he liked, he decided to kill himself, by going to bed and refusing to eat or drink, despite the pleas, prayers and imploring by his family. The story tracks his fate over the eight days it took him to die.
Refusing to eat, he is extremely hungry, and eats imaginary banquets, (the title being related to his favourite foods) and makes love in his mind with his screen idol, Sophie Loren. He reflects on his life, and how his mother, dying of cancer, held him responsible for her fate because in praying for her to live, he kept God from taking her. He stopped praying and she went. He is worried in living on as long as he does without food and water that someone might be praying for him too. He has visions and conversations with the angel of death too.
The story is told simply, but with a sense of great depth and compassion. There are Sufi aphorisms on many pages and the author adds her knowing details of Iranian politics of the period. Some men are seen resenting how women have been granted permission not to wear veils. Ali’s wife is seen as a decadent hedonistic Sufi dancing girl by many. Her increasing resentment of Ali’s talents lead her to smash his Tar.
The impact of the story is unforgettable.
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