Monthly Archives: November 2009

Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi

Alright, this is the last graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi that I have. I read Persepolis and immediately took the others out from the library. Chicken with Plums recounts the story of Nasser Ali Khan who is apparently a wonderful tar player. A tar is a string instrument that somewhat resembles a guitar. We never get to hear/see him play the tar, however, because when the story opens his beloved tar has been broken and he is searching for a replacement. The instruments that he auditions do not seem to speak to him as his old instrument did. He becomes depressed and decides that he wants to die. Taken to his bed the graphic novel replays his last week of life. His family attempts to persuade him otherwise but he is determined. While he waits for death to take him, he remembers moments from his childhood, a lost love and his subsequent marriage to his wife, his time as a pupil of the tar, and other moments both bitter and sweet. There is even a visit by Death who has a sense of humor.

Chicken with Plums


Holiday Cheer

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

My Persephone Secret Santa and Virago Secret Santa gifts are making the journey to their giftees. I’ve taken Saplings, The Ante-Room, and Say You’re one of Them with me while I’m away for the holidays.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome is a poor man working an unrelenting farm. He feels trapped in a loveless marriage to Zeena who is constantly ill and in an ill mood. After a death in the family, Zeena’s cousin Mattie moves in. To Ethan she is like a breath of fresh air and brings with her happiness that he has not known for some time.

Wharton provides wonderfully descriptive scenes of the snowy, unrelenting country side and the New England farm in which Ethan lives. I could feel the cold air and snow brush past me in this tragic, almost excruciating love story-it is haunting. The setting complements the atmosphere in Ethan’s home and the coldness of his relationship with his wife. I didn’t know what to expect in this interplay between these three. The plot is tightly woven and no word is wasted. The looks and exchanges between Mattie and Ethan are intense, like the fire that they sit near at night, exactly opposite of the situation between he and his wife.

What I found most interesting about Ethan’s story is that he struggles with society’s perceptions of his marriage with his wife. Keeping up social appearances becomes more important than his happiness and governs his actions to the point of destruction. I read a lot of books by and about women, and I usually find that women are placed in this position, or are at least depicted in this way. It shows that men are just as susceptible to social conventions.

Earlier this month I read Roman Fever, a short story written by Edith Wharton that appeared in the the Persephone Biannually. I have some other Ethan Wharton books on the shelf that I’m looking forward to reading.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

Last week I read Persepolis and enjoyed it so i immediately read Persepolis 2. In this book, Satrapi continues the story of her life where her first story left off. She is a young lady and too escape the war has left her home in Iran at the request of her parents to study in Austria. Her roommate and fellow classmates are quite different from what she is used to. There are some bumps in the road as she tries to belong and as she is gripped by the alienation of adolescence. She is growing up and she eventually finds herself moving again and eventually returning home. She views her time abroad as a failure.

For a child who grew up during wartime, Satrapi’s eyes are dramatically opened during her independence. There are drugs, relationships, new ideals to ponder, and coming to terms with a changing body and a new identity. After returning to Iran, she realizes that her old friends are strangers, and that both she and her country has changed. She has to work hard to pull herself into a new place and start a new chapter in her life-as a woman. She attends university to study art and in true Satrapi fashion challenges the notions held by the women and men there.

Satrapi discusses the search for self and identity, the importance of education and family, and the roles of women as dictated by religion, by society and by the women themselves. She shows that throughout ups and downs family will always provide support and home is a great place for rest and reflection. That you can always start over. I enjoyed the sequel a bit more than the first. I was touched by the experiences that Satrapi had.

Persepolis and Persepolis 2 together make up my first non-fiction work for the Women Unbound Challenge.

An underwater garden

For a while I’ve wanted to try my hand at a planted aquarium. I’ve seen photos of lush underwater landscapes that support an entire ecosystem of fish and about two months ago I set out to set up my very first planted tank. I think some folks call this aquascaping and since it’s plants in a type of container, I think I’ll keep up with my progress here. I waited before I posted just in case I was a failure and all the plants died off, but they are still going strong, and I have fish and shrimp (…and snails).

I’ll start with the set up. I have a 20 gallon tank with a basic filtration system, heater, and lights. I added a substrate specifically for planting-a mix of fine and larger gravel and some RO water about 3 inches from the bottom. This allowed me to landscape. Into the tank went a couple pieces of driftwood (already soaked and ready to go) and a variety of plants. Fill her up with more RO water and turn on the filter and stare eagerly through the glass. Not too bad.

Maintenance hasn’t been too bad…similar to the containers on the balcony. Trim and remove dead leaves as needed. I have 4 cardinal tetras and 2 zebra danios, ghost shrimp, and some snails that hitched a ride in on something. I’ll have to keep an eye on them since they eat plants, so far they seem to be eating only the dead stuff.

The bulbs I planted a month ago are sprouting-a water lily and an aponogeton are coming up.

Song of the Trees by Mildred D. Taylor

Song of the Trees

This is my first Mildred Taylor. You may be familiar with her Newbery Medal-winning book Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. The Song of the Trees is based on a true story told in Taylor’s family. The story takes place in rural Mississippi during the Depression. Cassie Logan’s father is away working to provide for his family. She lives with her mother, grandmother, and her brothers. Outside her window the forest serves as her playground, a place for discovery, and refuge. The trees sing and whistle for Cassie but one day while out with her brothers she notices that the trees are silent. Her brothers are aware of no such thing.

Mr. Anderson has come to buy the trees from Cassie’s family so that they can be cut down for lumber. The family could use the money but Cassie is greatly opposed and Big Ma has not yet made her decision. This is not enough to stop Mr. Anderson who begins to cut trees. Cassie must wait to see if patience and goodwill will save her beloved forest.

Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations are excellent. He also illustrated the edition of The Tales of Uncles Remus that I read earlier this year.

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me

It’s no secret that I loved Roald Dahl as a kid. His books for children are witty and entertaining.

So I read The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me for nostalgia’s sake. It is the story of a little boy named Billy who walks past an abandoned building wishing that it would be re-opened as a candy store. When he returns the next day he is met with an unlikely trio of singing and rhyming window washers: the giraffe is the ladder, the pelican holds the wash water, and the monkey washes the windows. The window washers immediately invite Billy to join the crew but before they can begin to solicit clients an invitation arrives from The Duke of Hampshire, “the richest man in England” to clean over 600 windows. So they get to work.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi


The premise of Embroideries is that a group of female relatives has just finished dinner and is sitting down to enjoy tea and an evening of conversation and good company. The women sip their tea and discuss all sorts of things. It is just like you’re sitting there with them. These could be the women in my family, telling stories about their experiences as young women, as wives, mothers, friends and confidants. Some of these characters I recognized from Satrapi’s biographical graphic novel Persepolis-namely her mother and grandmother. Like Persepolis, Embroideries is also a graphic novel but the format is a bit different. Satrapi does not use the traditional comic book panels and the drawings are more free-flowing across the page, sort of like the conversation.

The conversation turns to sexual experiences, arranged marriages, and the pursuit of beauty among other things, all of which serve to illustrate their experiences as Iranian women. Their stories are influenced by the social constraints that govern women during this time in Iran and serve as a sort of documentation of sexuality throughout the lifespan. It may seem that these women should be pitied because of their socially imposed silence but they are not helpless nor hopeless. There is something inspiring in their resolve to openly discuss the ways in which they handle these situations. They tell their stories with humor and their ability to be witty displays a strong sense of power.

Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson

Barbara Buncle has written a book. We never even get to read Miss Buncle’s book-but we really don’t have to. The reactions and the criticisms to Disturber of the Peace are entertaining on their own.

Feeling the pinch in her wallet Miss Buncle decides to write a book to bring in extra money. The book is about Silverstream, her small unassuming English town and its residents. Self described as unimaginative Miss Buncle simply writes about the exploits of her neighbors, peppering in escapades of her own and changes the names. She doesn’t even try to disguise her neighbors. She sends her manuscript to the first publisher she finds and becomes an author. Just like that. This is an excellent idea for a book, and I don’t think I’ve read a plot like it before.

Miss Buncle’s book becomes a bestseller and the fits begin almost immediately as the residents recognize themselves. Some find it funny and truthful, others feel that it is slanderous and will do just about anything to find the author and punish him. The town is looking for the author, but they have no idea who ‘John Smith’ is but they are sure he lives among them. What’s even better is that no one suspects Barbara at all, they see her as too silly and dimwitted to have written such a book. Miss Buncle’s success brings with it money, a sense of security, and a new found self-confidence. The fairytale does not end there.

    ‘It’s a kind of-a kind of allegory,’ continued Sally gravely, ‘Here’s this horrible little village, full of its own affairs and its own importance, all puffed up and smug and conventional and satisfied with itself, and then suddenly their eyes are opened and their shackles fall off and they act according to their real natures. They are not shams anymore, they’re real. It’s simply marvellous,’ Sally said, turning a shining face upon the astonished author.


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

    Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood

I’ve read about this graphic novel around the blogosphere and wanted to read it after seeing a trailer for the screen adaptation. And I have to say I enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure that I would (I’ve only read one other graphic novel) but Satrapi does a wonderful job telling the story of her life in words and pictures. There are funny moments and some that are heart-wrenching.

Persepolis is Satrapi’s account of her life growing up in a financially stable family in Iran in the 70s and 80s. The backdrop for her story is the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. Although Satrapi is a young girl during this time she is obviously very bright and inquisitive, she also has no problems speaking her mind and getting answers to her questions. Her parents are fervent Marxists who attend demonstrations and talk with her about the revolution. She struggles with death and prisoners of war (some of whom she knows personally), with religious ideals, and social constructions. She was a little girl that I loved immediately. She has intense conversations with God and was convinced that she was to become a prophet. Her favorite comic book was ‘Dialectic Materialism’ starring Marx and Descartes.

My favorite part is when she realizes what the revolution is about. She tried to understand by reading books but it is the moment that she thinks about the professions of others in her life; porter, window washer, carpet weaver, and the maid that lives in her house that she begins to understand. Satrapi says that she never understood why she felt ashamed to ride in her father’s Cadillac or why Mehri, the maid could not marry who she loved. She realizes that the reasons for her shame and the war boil down to social classes.

    “When I went back to her room she [the maid] was crying. We were not in the same social class but at least we were in the same bed.”

Satrapi gives us the history of her life and her country as she experienced it. Her adventures reveal a lot about the inconsistencies embedded in social structures. I enjoyed this one and was pleased to find out that she has other graphic novels. I will post my thoughts on these books later this week. And I’m going to watch the movie.

  • *Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
  • *Embroideries
  • *Chicken with Plums