Marjane Satrapi, Poulet aux Prunes (Chicken with Plums, French 2004)
Marjane Satrapi is super famous (at least in France) for Persepolis, her graphic memoir of growing up in the Persia of the Shah, that was overthrown by the Islamic revolution in 1979 when she was ten. I loved it, because it was both blunt and delicate.
Chicken with Plums is another graphic memoir, focused on Nasser Ali Khan, Satrapi’s great uncle and a famous musician in Iran, who died in 1958. It takes the form of a traditional tale, as it recounts the last eight days of his life, with both realist details and ironic distance, and a lyrical and poetic imagination.
During an umpteenth fight with his wife, what Nasser loves most in life gets destroyed: its precious tar, his music instrument. No other tar can replace what was lost, and finally Khan, heartbroken, lies down and awaits death. During eight days, he remembers key moments of his life, especially his thwarted love story with another woman.
It’s a deeply sad story because we discover that music is the only space of freedom that Nasser has left. Despite their mutual attraction, he was not allowed to love Irâne, and her father refused that marriage with a lowly musician. Full of sadness, regret and depression, Nasser’s music becomes the best, but the rest of his life is in shambles. He accepts an arranged marriage with Nahid, but he never loves her. What seemed a pretty straightforward story (especially through the choice of only black and white) becomes a complex web of regrets, untold emotions and missed opportunities.
It made me wonder what would be the taste of Nasser Ali’s favorite dish, this chicken with plums (with onions, tomatoes, turmeric and saffron), and what his tar’s music might sound like. So I could not resist a quick Youtube search!