on 27 August 2005
Set in 1986, Pomegranate Soup is a beguiling story of what happens when the exotic smells of the East meet the stodgy, suspicion-laden people of the West. When three Iranian sisters arrive in the small, sheltered village of Ballinacroagh, in Western Ireland, they are faced with almost insurmountable obstacles as they struggle to make a new life for themselves.
Marjan, Bahar, and Layla managed to escape the shah's religious revolution in 1970's Iran, "a revolutionary feast that had gone on far too long." After living in London for a couple of years they have come to Ballinacroagh to achieve one of their life's dreams and also to escape the ghosts of their past.
Using their cooking skills, along their ineffable desire to bring something of their heritage to the local townsfolk, the newcomers open the Babylon Café on a site that has been "deserted and collecting dust" since the death, five years before of Luigi Delmonico, the Italian baker who once owned it.
Having befriended Luigi's widow, Estelle, the sisters are invited to bring new life to the small bistro and soon the Main Mall, the center of the quaint little village begins to exude scents of cinnamon and rosewater, and onions cooking in tightly clenched fists and drops of blood blooming into full-blown roses.
Of course, not all the townsfolk are happy with the new arrivals. Although the local priest Father Mahoney immediately comes under the spell of the Aminpour sisters' delightful cooking, viscous gossip abounds, spread by the puritanical Dervla Quigley who views the new café as "a nasty streak of foreignness," producing wicked, tingling sensations that taunt the severely religious woman's ingrained sense of decency.
Thomas McGuire, the town's enterprising publican and local bully, is also full of animosity. He resents the Aminpours for taking over a prime piece of real estate he has coveted since the original shop closed. Obsessed with seventies disco music, Thomas wanted to turn the café into a dance club. He sees the sisters as devilish and thinks there's "something very wrong about a smell so strong."
Thomas had been suffering under the strains of unfulfilled dreams; he has wrongly compensated for his failures by steamrolling and manipulating everyone in his path. To him, the sisters are nothing but "fechin' foreigners, laying their filthy paws in what was rightful his."
The mistrust instigated by Thomas and Dervla initially reverberates throughout the town, but the gossip, if not silenced, is ignored; and the sisters find allies among the town's colorful residents. However, no sooner, are they open for business and doing well, than their traumatic past life in Iran threatens to come back and haunt them.
Unspeakable events have left indelible scars on the girls. Bahar is forever looking over her shoulder for fear that she stepped on cracks or wondered under a ladder, her nervousness escalating into a deeper malaise in recent years. She blames herself that they are stuck in some mean little village at the end of the world, "with nothing but cooking burns and the stink of fried onions to look forward to."
However, Layla is the inspiration for them all, encouraging lust in younger men and youthful dreams in their older counterparts. Marjan is also a pillar of strength for the women, working her magic over both men and women in a more practical, yet equally intriguing manner. One taste of Marjan's food and most "not only start dreaming but also actually contemplate doing."
Author, Marsha Mehran has written a delightful first novel full of the seductive qualities of food. Weaving elements of magical realism into the narrative, she shows that food cannot only bring cultures together, but also stem the evil tide of prejudice and mistrust.
The glint of the samovar and the sensuous wafts of cardamom, cinnamon and rosewater gradually seduce the people of Ballinacroagh, while giving the Aminpour sisters friends in the most unlikeliest of places and a home where they can finally feel safe. For them, the Babylon Café eventually becomes their own Hanging Gardens of Babylon, their own small slab of paradise. Mike Leonard August 05.
on 10 August 2005
I can't begin to say how much I enjoyed this book! It is a facinating story and so well told. It could have been a bitter and depressing book but instead Marsha has brought to life in a was I never thought possible. It is colorful, delicious and at times made me hungry! At times I felt that I was in that kitchen, smelling and tasting everything, wishing I could be sitting there at one of the tables trying out all those dishes. I feel that the thre sisters will be a part of me for ever.
on 22 October 2011
I thought I would enjoy this book but was disappointed from the start. I is too closely associated with the novel Chocolat in its so called magical element.
The flash backs to life in Persia were the best parts also the interaction between the sisters but the more serious elements such as rape, home abuse etc, were slightly dismissed and because of this the novel gained no credence.
on 26 June 2011
I enjoyed this story but it wasn't as great as I'd hoped. I enjoy books around magic, baking, cooking, mysterious strangers etc, so I looked forward to reading this. It does have some wonderful descriptions of the food that's cooked but I wished that there was more depth to the characters - the Irish men and women seemed like interesting characters but then they just sort of fell away leaving you wanting to know more or for them to be more involved in the story. It's a nice book, which isn't a great description and is a little bland but that's how I felt about the story so it seems apt.