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Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi

16 Aug

Snapseed 2I adored the film Persepolis, based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up during the Iranian Revolution. So when I stumbled upon Chicken with Plums (trans. Anjali Singh) in a Little Free Library, I knew I hit Little Free Library gold. The title, too, is tantalizing. (Some of you may be familiar with my obsession with plums.)

Set in November 1955, Chicken with Plums is the story of Satrapi’s great-uncle Nasser Ali Kahn, a pre-eminent tar player. (The tar is a string instrument from the Caucus region.) It’s a heartbreaking story—I nearly burst into tears by page 36—about love, loss, and longing. (Apropos of love, loss, and longing, what would a tango played on a tar sound like? Is that possible? Please comment with links or research leads!) Nasser’s beloved tar breaks, no replacement will do, and he loses the will to live. I read this book just after Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, so this may be why I found it particularly affecting. But Nasser finds some comfort in his brother and a beloved childhood dish, chicken with plums. (Here’s a recipe. The author of the recipe calls saffron “the world’s most expensive Prozac.”)

In addition to being heartbreaking, Chicken with Plums highlighted so many things about the history of Iran that I just didn’t know much about, such as the nationalization of the oil industry, which led to the U.K.- and-U.S.-backed coup in 1953. To paraphrase my high school English teacher Mr. Faciano: if you read literature, you get everything—in this case history, politics, music, gastronomy—plus a compelling story, gorgeously told.

Comics

12 Jun

This weekend I went to the MoCCA Art Festival to see my friend Rosemary and her new comics. I picked up her lovely, boldly-inked, and educational Mid-Cambrian Morning, about some crustaceans (?) living in a wacky period of evolution, 540 million years ago.

I also picked up a copy of Heart & Brain: A Turning Story, by Fay Ryu, as I naturally gravitate to pictures and stories about those (and other) internal organs. It’s a wordless story of, you guessed it, a meeting between a heart and a brain in a garden. I won’t give away the ending but it’s both touching and devastating.

Finally, on a related note, Teachers College is having a gallery opening called “Learning Inside (and Outside) the Box”. It’s a show devoted to the combination of creative thinking with traditional literacy skills and it exhibits original comic books by children made over the 2005-06 school year. Follow the link for details.

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