By Marsha Mehran
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400062416, 240pp.)
Publication Date: August 2, 2005
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Beneath the holy mountain Croagh Patrick, in damp and lovely County Mayo, sits the small, sheltered village of Ballinacroagh. To the exotic Aminpour sisters, Ireland looks like a much-needed safe haven. It has been seven years since Marjan Aminpour fled Iran with her younger sisters, Bahar and Layla, and she hopes that in Ballinacroagh, a land of “crazed sheep and dizzying roads,” they might finally find a home.
From the kitchen of an old pastry shop on Main Mall, the sisters set about creating a Persian oasis. Soon sensuous wafts of cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron float through the streets–an exotic aroma that announces the opening of the Babylon Café, and a shock to a town that generally subsists on boiled cabbage and Guinness served at the local tavern. And it is an affront to the senses of Ballinacroagh’s uncrowned king, Thomas McGuire. After trying to buy the old pastry shop for years and failing, Thomas is enraged to find it occupied–and by foreigners, no less.
But the mysterious, spicy fragrances work their magic on the townsfolk, and soon, business is booming. Marjan is thrilled with the demand for her red lentil soup, abgusht stew, and rosewater baklava–and with the transformation in her sisters. Young Layla finds first love, and even tense, haunted Bahar seems to be less nervous.
And in the stand-up-comedian-turned-priest Father Fergal Mahoney, the gentle, lonely widow Estelle Delmonico, and the headstrong hairdresser Fiona Athey, the sisters find a merry band of supporters against the close-minded opposition of less welcoming villagers stuck in their ways. But the idyll is soon broken when the past rushes back to threaten the Amnipours once more, and the lives they left behind in revolution-era Iran bleed into the present.
Infused with the textures and scents, trials and triumph,s of two distinct cultures, Pomegranate Soup is an infectious novel of magical realism. This richly detailed story, highlighted with delicious recipes, is a delectable journey into the heart of Persian cooking and Irish living.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Marsha Mehran escaped the Revolution with her family. She has since lived in such diverse places as Buenos Aires, The United States, Australia and Ireland. Her first novel, Pomegranate Soup was an international bestseller, and her second novel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, continues the adventures of the three Aminpour sisters. She lives in New York, where she is busy spinning more tales.
"Few novels have such charm, such fusion. Marsha Mehran takes one of the great staples of literature, food and its creation, and makes it the vehicle of a delightful, subtle fairytale. With a deep understanding of opposites such as whimsy and poignancy, she delivers a moving and very amusing enquiry into whether differences between peoples exist at all. "
-- Frank Delaney, author of Ireland
"Pomegranate Soup is glorious, daring and delightful. I adored the Iranian sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla, who are looking to build a life, start a business and find love in a place so far from home. Ireland has never been more beautiful -- the perfect setting for this story filled with humor, hope and possibility."
--Adriana Trigiani, author of Rococo
Recalling James Joyce's Dubliners, this first novel by Mehran (who was born in Iran but now lives in Ireland) centers on the inhabitants of a small Irish town. When three Iranian sisters move into the former bake shop and open a Middle Eastern caf , turmoil erupts. The quirky and wonderfully fleshed-out characters who make up the populace of Ballinacroagh align with either the sisters and their exotic delicacies or the town bully, Thomas McGuire, who attempts to put them out of business. From the young and lovely Layla to resident gossip Dervla Quigley, these characters come to life; they're as uniquely simple or as deeply complex as the dishes that eldest sister Marjan concocts-recipes included! Personal demons and questioned loyalties play out like a movie on the page (think Joanne Harris's Chocolat), making the reader feel like an eyewitness to all the events. A satisfying summer read or book club pick; highly recommended.
— Library Journal
“Books Best Read With a Helping of Fairy Dust: Three sisters who have fled their native Iran set up a Persian cafe in their new home, the tiny town of Ballinacroagh, Ireland. After initial suspicion, the townsfolk learn to love the shop with its spicy fragrances and exotic foods. Marsha Mehran describes the food in mouthwatering detail--with a dash of magic realism.”
-- The Chicago Tribune
To give the reader a better appreciation for the pivotal role of food in the novel, Mehran includes recipes for some Iranian specialties: stuffed grape leaves, elephant ear pastries, and the title’s pomegranate soup. Stark contrasts between the sisters’ lives in Iran and Ireland and between the Irish and Persian cultures energize Mehran’s tale.
–Mark Knoblauch -- Booklist
“In one bite, exotic pomegranates offer a bittersweet reminder of where you are and where you could be. Marsha Mehran is masterful in her exploration of the worlds of the familiar vs. the unfamiliar, chuckling all the way.”
-- Rocco DiSpirito, celebrity chef and author of Flavor and Rocco's Italian American
“Pomegranate Soup, a delightful debut novel, goes from Iran to Ireland and catches the flavors of both cultures through unforgettable scenes and characters. The three Aminpour sisters leaving Iran on the eve of the Revolution, opening a Persian restaurant in an Irish town, enchant us with their optimism and aroma of pomegranate soup, lingering beyond the pages.”
-- Nahid Rachlin, author of Foreigner and Veils
“Vibrantly alive and populated with rich characters, this is a delicious first novel flavored generously with Persian spices and Irish temperaments. Marsha Mehran writes with a deft hand and a sparkling imagination.”
--Amulya Malladi, author of Serving Crazy with Curry
"An enchanting tale of love, family and renewal that illuminates the magical qualities of Persian cuisine."
-- Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi
“Pomegranate Soup is a delicious first novel, chock-full of wisdom, hope and the human capacity to overcome. All first novels should offer as much.”
-Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony series and If Grace Is True