Marjane Satrapi has carved something of a niche for herself, crafting touching stories from her own experiences as a woman growing up in Iran. Chicken with Plums remains in a similar vein, as she documents the last days of her great-uncle Nasser Ali Khan, a renowned Iranian musician who gave up on life in 1958 when someone broke his treasured antique tar.
Music was Khan’s life, leading him to forsake his wife and family for his tar and his art. Satrapi paints him as a complex character – a difficult artist, impossible to live with but unable to understand why his family might resent him. When his instrument is broken he takes to his bed and grumpily declares he wishes to die, and his spiraling despair and refusal to eat do the job eight days later.
As we watch him reminisce his way through his last days, his past rises to the surface and we gain some understanding but little empathy for his predicament. He fails to get over a lost love of his youth and drives his besotted wife through a life of domestic slavery, while he sits and plucks at his instrument.
Satrapi clearly has mixed feelings for her relative, recounting a story that she can only have discovered through the perspectives of others. She builds a fascinating character study though, with all the charm, and moral and emotional complexity you’d expect from a highly polished modern literary talent. Satrapi is gaining respect from all corners and this book can only build on her deserved reputation as one of the most gifted writers working in or outside the world of graphic novels.