Books graphic novel International Middle Eastern Literature Reading Themes

A Middle Eastern Fairy Tale in Marjane Satrapi’s “The Sigh”

Myra here.

Best known for her Persepolis graphic novel memoirs, Marjane Satrapi, apparently also wrote an illustrated novel (or could pass off as somewhat of a graphic novel) for younger readers. Fats did share back in 2014 that she expected more from the story, which contributed a little bit to my not trying to hunt this title down as avidly. But given our reading theme, I thought that I might as well make the book’s acquaintance.

The Sigh

Written and Illustrated by: Marjane Satrapi
Published by: Archaia Entertainment, 2011. ISBN: 1936393468 (ISBN13: 9781936393466)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

The first few pages reminded me a little bit of the original story of Beauty and the Beast with the father leaving on a journey, and three sisters requesting for a trinket for the father to bring back to them upon returning home. In this story, the youngest daughter named Rose, asked for “the seed of a blue bean” as she was depicted to be “interested in botany.” While Rose’s older sisters were able to get their special requests: a merino shawl and a dress made of peacock feathers, her father could not, for the life of him, find the seed of a blue bean. This made Rose give such a huge sigh of despair, that a creature knocked on the door, calling itself “Ah the Sigh,” and handed over the much-coveted blue bean.

After a year, the plant grew and thrived, and on the day of its first birthday, the Sigh came back again to take Rose away with him. Here, we could still see traces of the original Beauty and the Beast, except that there was really no beast (just a Prince in the Kingdom of Sighs), and no magnificent library in a castle where she was forced to live out the rest of her days. Instead, what she had in her castle was a morning milk bath, a massage, a facial, manicure, a bit of botanical research, and live performances every evening. Life could be so much better, right?

Eventually, life as Rose knew it, ceased because of a plucked feather from an armpit. This led to Rose voluntarily putting herself up for slavery not just once, but three different times, where she managed to solve certain issues that her masters/mistresses were facing – which eventually led to the solution to her own problem.

What that is, I shall leave for you to discover. There are definitely stories within a story here – some more farfetched than others. I still did enjoy the dab of irony, the sideways humour, and the absurdity of it all. But above all, a strange love – lost and regained by a plucked feather. From an armpit. This may be an acquired taste, but I still enjoyed it.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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