Review Summaries and Quotes on Pomegranate Soup

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

‘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

‘Recalling James Joyce’s Dubliners, this first novel by Mehran (who was born in Iran but now lives in Ireland) centres on the inhabitants of a small Irish town. When three Iranian sisters move into the former bake shop and open a Middle Eastern café, 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 mouth-watering 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

“Not everyone in Marsha Mehran’s Pomegranate Soup is sweet-tempered, but the story itself bursts with the sweetness of family, charity, and excellent food. ….”

“This is a lovely confection on balance. Take it up, and follow a small interlude in the lives of these young lovelies, one that promises that the best is yet to come.”

On December 4, 2014,  Luke Sherwood wrote on Basso Profundo, a blog site on “Book Reviews that Sound a Bigger Note” the following:

“Not everyone in Marsha Mehran’s Pomegranate Soup is sweet-tempered, but the story itself bursts with the sweetness of family, charity, and excellent food. Capturing the harrowing history of three Iranian sisters who just manage to escape the country during the revolution of 1979, the narrative finds them, seven years on, in what seems like their last chance at refuge, on the west coast of Ireland.

The citizens of this town fit into some fairly straightforward types: the town magnate/bully; an old gossip-monger, bitter and incontinent; the friendly, nonconforming hairdresser. But these props serve the story of the more nuanced sisters, who struggle with haunting memories and the pressures of establishing a café. Dramatic tension builds as the pushy entrepreneur does everything he can to run them out of town, and his dull, pushy son nearly succeeds when he assaults the youngest sister, only 15 years old.”

Please read more on Basso Profundo



Pomegranate Soup Reviewed by an avid reader

Pomegranate Soup (Babylon Cafe #1)

Marsha Mehran
Harper Collins AUS
2006, 258p
Read from my local library

It has been seven years since Marjan Aminpour fled Iran with her two younger sisters, just before the revolution broke out. They at first made their home in London but now they’ve come to Ballinacroagh in County Mayo, Ireland to start all over again. They take over the lease of a long abandoned pastry shop and open a Persian restaurant. Soon the exotic smells are wafting through the tiny village. The Babylon Cafe is open for business.

But the three sisters are not immediately welcomed by everyone. They’re used to much plainer food and at first the new cafe is regarded with suspicion. Slowly however, the enticing smells invite people past the door to sample the wares. There’s a notable exception – Ballinacroagh’s property mogul Thomas McGuire. He already owns the pubs and isn’t too pleased about a new eating establishment opening up right next door to one of his businesses, especially as he’s had plans for that old pastry shop for years. He makes it no secret that he doesn’t want the Aminpour sisters in the town and wants to drive the foreigners out.

Despite the hostility that comes from Thomas McGuire, the sisters do find a band of support to welcome them and frequent their cafe, giving them hope for the future. However it isn’t long before one of them believes her dreadful past is catching up to her. They’ve already had to run twice. All they want is the chance to have a safe and happy home in Ireland.

A couple of months ago I came across an article that lamented the death of author Marsha Mehran. I hadn’t heard of her but I was intrigued so I clicked on it and read through about her life. Her family fled Iran and lived in several places including South America, the United States, Australia and later on Mehran herself lived in Ireland. Her books seemed well received and interesting so I checked my local library and this one, the first of two Babylon Cafe books, was available so I put in a request.

When I first started reading, I think I forgot when it was set and I found myself being surprised at the immediate hostility from a lot of the local residents, just upon smelling the food and the spices as Marjan began to set up her kitchen for the first day of service. Then I remembered – this is probably in the mid 80s (the sisters fled Iran just prior to the revolution so 1978 or 79) and it’s seven years before they come to Ireland. Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country and Mayo is on the west coast, far removed from Dublin. It’s probably likely that there wasn’t a lot of diversity that had made it’s way to the tiny villages in that particular area. Persian cuisine probably would’ve been a very alien idea and time was probably required for people to decide to try it. On the first day, the sisters get no customers to their cafe.

In a way, this book is like a Persian-influenced Sarah Addison Allen. I’ve read all of Addison Allen’s books and there are several which revolve around characters that can inject power and emotions into food. Marjan seems to possess a similar sort of quality and she applies cultural inspiration and tradition into her dishes, using certain ingredients and spices for mood. As the oldest sister, she is practical and level-headed. I think she’s had to be, in order to get them this far. It was Marjan that arranged their escape and then supported the family by working in restaurants and then orchestrated their move to Ireland when they felt their safety was threatened living in London. Middle sister Bahar is nervy and frightened, not particularly positive about this move. A former nurse, she will be working in the cafe as well now and the reactions of some of the local people seem to hit Bahar the hardest. She’s very timid, for reasons which are revealed quite late in the story and I feel as though Bahar has perhaps a lot of pent up guilt and sadness still within her as well. Youngest sister Layla is still in high school and when she sets eyes on Malachy McGuire she becomes smitten immediately. Malachy is the younger son of Thomas McGuire and he’s furious when he finds out that his son is equally smitten by Layla.

Although I did really enjoy reading about the three women and their journey, I did find the magical realism stuff a touch heavy handed. It just felt a little bit too overdone, like it was trying a little too hard to inject something special into each of the three women. I really appreciated having a recipe to kick off each chapter though, something that Marjan would be cooking during that part of the book. I don’t know much about Persian food so it was wonderful to have that included and be better able to picture what the dish might look, smell and taste like. I was really interested in their past in Iran and appreciated the way in which it was told, in little trickles without too much grisly detail. In this case, less was definitely more and the author painted a very good picture of the fear that gripped Marjan and how she knew they had to get out.

Despite the magical realism being a bit too magical for me a times I still enjoyed this book a lot and I would definitely like to read the second book, Rosewater & Soda Bread and see what happens next to the 3 sisters.


An avid reader and Blogist

Pomegranate Soup Cover PhotoPomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran
C&F Qualification(s): Imaginary Boyfriend, Pint Night
Ranking: 4.5
Level of Commitment: Talking
Pairing: Pomegranate Martini – obviously
Quick take: Love, good food, and a teensy bit of magic make life more romantic. Marsha Mehran captures all of these, throwing in a little heartache and some new beginnings, against the backdrop of dramatically contrasting cultures.

Something about Iran fascinates me. I’ve never visited, but the richness of Persian history and culture seem not only exotic, but a bit sensuous. Maybe because I love to cook read: eat, when people describe spices, I’m transported to that moment when you’re startled by the most amazing combination of flavors.

Pomegranate Soup Post: Image 1

Marsha Mehran perfectly presents this passion for tastes, smells and colors, layering in a bit of forgotten knowledge:
Maybe nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves remedy migraines.
Maybe nigella seed “excites a spicy energy that…burns forever with the unbound desire of an unrequited lover”.

Okay, so it comes across as a bit fanciful, but wth, sometimes you have to let yourself go along for the ride and just enjoy.

Iranian Spices for Pomegranate Soup

She spins a powerful story. Three sisters flee Iran during the revolution and wind up in a small Irish town on the run. They each have a gift to share and these gifts help them come into their own and find a new life. The town, in turn, finds itself all out of sorts when they arrive. The girls disrupt their routines and challenge the things they take for granted.

After reading this, I discovered that Mehran, similarly to the girls, fled Iran to open a cafe. It made me wonder about the stories she grew up hearing, and how much of the girls’ struggle was her own.

Nothing in me can imagine leaving a country in turmoil. I may live as an expat, but part of my love for this life comes from the security of knowing that this is just an adventure; home will always be there for me when I want to go back.

What do you even do when you know you can’t go back?

When I think about London, I think about how it makes travel so convenient. I think about how you can drink outside of the pubs or in the gardens and parks. I think about how in the summer the sun stays up until past 10pm. I think about the funny phrases like “throwing your toys out of the pram” and “gutted.” But the reason I can celebrate these things so comfortably is because the things I don’t love, are different at home.

When the winter can’t decide whether to rain or not, so instead it spits at you, I think of cold winters and hot summers at home. When I think about how ridiculous it is that tumble dryers for your clothes don’t come standard in flats, I remember what it was like to have tight butt jeans at home.

Point being, it’s easier to enjoy the good here now, because I’ll have the good there later.

All in all, this is a really sweet story. Quick to read, didn’t require a ton of emotional energy. I’d classify it as a win.

My one qualm with this book was that I wanted more. I wanted to see how the rest of their lives played out and know more details about their stories. Ultimately, I think she made a good call though, as the magic may have been lost at that point. Too much of a good thing sucks, unless it’s Ben & Jerry’s or mac and cheese.

Champagne and Fiction

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