Friday, June 19, 2009

The Handsell: Chicken With Plums

I have two reasons for starting a new series of The Handsell today.

1) I have less than a month left as an employee at McNally Jackson, so I feel I ought to poach my own staff picks from the store website before I'm no longer a MacJack (as we call ourselves in uninhibited moments).

2) If you're like me, the situation in Iran at the moment is incredibly compelling, filling us with hope and fear. Marjane Satrapi is, I'll admit, the one Iranian writer I really know, and she's been involved in speaking out for the opposition movement. It seems like a good time to revisit her work.


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Chicken With Plums

by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, $12.95)

I waited a long time before picking up the newest work by the author of Persepolis, fearing she was just cashing in on her fame with a fluff followup. But it's wonderful, of course; I actually think this book is even more nuanced, moving and illuminating about Iranian life than Marjane Satrapi's original memoir. It's the half-mythologized story of Satrapi's uncle Nasser, a musician who decides to die for reasons that are simpler and more complex than they seem. It moves quietly, but it will break your heart.

The images are simple but eloquent, in Satrapi's heavy-line style, and evoke both the absurdity and pathos of the situation. I don't want to say more about just what happens, because the small revelations, circling backward and forward through time and perceptions, are what give this book (novel?) its power. It's now out in paperback, and highly recommended if you feel like immersing yourself in Iranian culture on a small scale, or or if you appreciate stories of the strange specifics and inescapable universality of human romantic and family life. I'm thankful for these kinds of stories.