Comics

Chicken with Plums

Before even opening Chicken with Plums it is apparent that the book will have to go beyond the cultural seduction of Persepolis if Satrapi’s career is to become anything other than a one-note veil dance.


Publisher: Pantheon
Length: 96 pages
Writer: Marjane Satrapi
Price: $12.95
Graphic Novel: Chicken with Plums
Publication Date: 2009-04

After the colossal success of Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi will be forever burdened with the task of trying to escape the ubiquity of her own creation. Although Persepolis was nothing terribly special in its own right, its amusing and hitherto unmatched glimpse into Iranian adolescent life summoned — not entirely intentionally — the most ardent orientalistic impulses of the West. The whimsical attitude of Persepolis suggested that the Middle East might just be as magical as its mystery would indicate and the graphic novel was quickly adapted into college curriculums, summer reading lists, and eventually a film adaptation.

Chicken with Plums is Satrapi’s sixth book after the Persepolis series and was just rereleased to ride the success of her first graphic novel. One would imagine that the challenge to Satrapi would be to continue creating comics that inspire the same kind of enthusiasm as Persepolis. Before even opening Chicken with Plums it is apparent that the book will have to go beyond the cultural seduction of Persepolis if Satrapi’s career is to become anything other than a one-note veil dance.

The good news is that Chicken with Plums is a much better work than Persepolis. The story is a much simpler one and takes the form of a fable rather than a memoir. Chicken with Plums relates the story of Nasser Ali Khan, Satrapi’s relative, who resolves to let himself die after his annoyed wife breaks his prize tar, an Iranian stringed instrument. The novel is divided into the day by day account of Nasser Ali Khan’s death, as he lies bed-ridden, reflecting on the life that brought him to this dolorous end.

Much of the plot focuses on Nasser Ali Khan’s relationship with his wife, whom we find that he married under less than romantic circumstances. Through a mixed bag of flashbacks and aphorism, Chicken with Plums retains much of the magic of Persepolis but succeeds in doing so without shackling to any cultural curiosity. The story itself is enchanting, not its connection to a foreign country.

This achievement owes itself to limited reference to the historical goings on of Iran. Although the characters mention Mossadegh and the unrest following his overthrow, these details decorate rather than dominate. Chicken with Plums takes pains to craft an engaging tale that is somewhat culturally transcendental. Although the bildungsroman character of Persepolis should be common to most societies, it was this very universality that was played upon: “See how similar Iranian youths are to Western youths.” There is nothing jarring about the fact that Chicken with Plums’ story of heartbreak was set in the Middle East, and this geographic silence allows the book to stand on the merit of its own story telling.

However, what makes Chicken with Plums truly exceptional is the manner in which it surprises readers. Without resorting to any sensational elements such as plot twists, Chicken with Plums leads readers on a very human fog. The motives of the cast are unclear until the end of the novel and the story is just as much about the invisible reasons for our actions as it is about a heartbroken musician. The tension between apparent drive and actual drive is the dynamic on which Chicken with Plums is structured and allows for a very natural unfolding of events. To wit, Satrapi is phenomenological as ever, and it is this talent that earns her the distinction of one of the world’s most prominent graphic novelists.

The art retains the simple elegance of Satrapi but enjoys a few ornamental flourishes due to the mythical interludes. Satrapi continues to exploit the capacity of graphic novels to offer subtle insight into the motivations and feelings of her characters without telling the reader too much. The finale sequence of the book is intricately crafted in this absolutely breathtaking way.

However, the troubling thing about Chicken with Plums is that I find myself unable to talk about the comic without continual recourse to Persepolis. Does this suggest that Satrapi needs a sharp divorce from form to escape the eclipse of her celebrity? Perhaps, but as one reads Chicken with Plums, a story structured very differently than Persepolis, one realizes that what Satrapi has done is created a comic universe in which she may play with genre, plot, and theme, each book complementing the others.

In the end, it still remains to be seen whether the positive effects of this symbiotic literature will outweigh the more immediate impression that Persepolis simply overshadows the rest of Satrapi’s work.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.