In Chicken with Plums, Marjane Satrapi writes about tar musician Nasser Ali, a great-uncle of hers who decides to die after his wife destroys his tar in a heated argument. He tries and tries to find another tar that will be the equal of the one that was destroyed, but even the best of tars will not make the music he imagines. He lies down on his bed and stays there for eight days, upon which he dies. Chicken with Plums follows him through those eight days, through visits and memories and dreams and hallucinations.
The good: Marjane Satrapi charms me. She writes with wry humor that spares no one, and interweaves the story of Nasser Ali with the history of Iran. Despite how much I don’t care for Nasser Ali, the story is still emotionally effective. I love how she used black backgrounds for the flashback sequences, many of which depicted the early relationship of Nasser Ali and his wife. The shading difference provided a great visual reminder of how much their relationship has changed since they were first in love.
The bad (for me): I wanted to slap Nasser Ali. This may have been the intended effect, but it took away from my enjoyment of the book. He had children! And left him! And was unkind to his little son! I do not condone the breaking of his tar, but mercy, I can see how his wife was driven to it. So all the time he was moping in bed and refusing to get up and eat and talk to anyone, I was muttering unkind things about him under my breath. Esp. after the chapter about praying for people not to die. Hmph. Absent parents, v. bad.
I have heard that you are not supposed to need to identify with the characters in books, but when I read a book with a protagonist that I think is a jerk, I often reach a place where I can’t be bothered reading any more. Especially people who are whiny. That’s why I couldn’t get on with Catcher in the Rye. How do you manage books with unsympathetic protagonists?