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Pomegranate Soup: A Novel Paperback – September 12, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Beautiful strangers bring exotic recipes to town in Mehran's foodie-lit debut. The Irish hamlet of Ballinacroagh is the unlikely new home for three Iranian sisters and their new Babylon Cafe. Twenty-seven-year-old Marjan, the most skilled in the kitchen; Bahar, the tentative middle sister; and Layla, the charming teenager, fled the Iranian revolution and, after some years in London, have arrived determined to succeed. Initially wary natives soon fall under the spell of the cafe's cardamom- and rosewater-scented wonders, with kindly Estelle Delmonico (the stereotyped Italian widow who formerly owned the storefront) and friendly Father Mahoney leading the pack. But town bully Thomas McGuire, who loathes "feckin' foreigners," and gossip Dervla Quigley, who thinks "they're all sluts," will do anything to drive the sisters away. As Marjan cements alliances through her recipes and Layla falls in love with McGuire's son, Bahar continues to be troubled by the violence in her past. Can the provincial Irish welcome the "foreigners"? Will the sisters triumph? But of course! Mehran's mauve prose gets especially purple sometimes (Layla feels love "like the ecstatic cries of a pomegranate as it realized the knife's thrust"), but fans of Chocolat and other cooking-overcomes-cultural-differences stories will savor the tale, not to mention the 13 recipes, including one for pomegranate soup. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The three Aminpour sisters escape the Iranian Revolution and make their way west to a small Irish village. There they pursue a well-worn path to assimilation by taking over an abandoned Italian bakery and opening the Babylon Cafe. It takes a while to win over the insular townsfolk, but they manage to make a success of their restaurant, charming even the local priest. They never do span the gulf separating them from Thomas McGuire, owner of the town pub, who sees the sisters as business rivals as much as cultural aliens. The smells of cardamom, fenugreek, and saffron wafting over the town lure locals away from McGuire's bland pub fare, so he plots to shutter their interloping restaurant. 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812972481
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812972481
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. E. Sweeney on September 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
I read "Pomegranate Soup," by Marsha Mehran, and found it far deeper and wider than I ever expected given the youth and beauty of the lady pictured on the fly-leaf. As I closed the cover, I had to wonder: "How is it that she still looks like a baby, as if nothing has ever hurt her?" Marsha writes of a little family of three sisters, Iranian ex-pats who land in the west of Ireland, find it pleasing, and open an ethnic restaurant.

From the kitchen, they practice their exotic culinary skills and spy the true nature and spirit of the place, the scent of the air, the curious customs and peccadilloes of the people, and from this haven crafted a story that could amuse and even satisfy, but is not quite as simple as it looks at the start. In telling us her own story, which is cleverly entwined with the exotic and remarkable cuisine of her homeland, she reveals herself to be a gifted writer, an astute observer of human nature, and an authentic participant in living history with a little more family history than immediately meets the eye. And then there is another thing, something else, a dark underside, a secret, the truth of the sisters' exodus from their homeland.

"Pomegranate Soup" at times reads a little like "Ballykissangel," (Dervla Quigley?) but which is no harm. The little threads of pop culture help define time and place, and if the author has borrowed a little to help plump up the prose and fill in the gaps, well, it's no harm and indeed makes the story quite accessible. The impressions of Ireland and the Irish nature accrued by Ms. Mehran are truthful and fearless, and often seem quite innocent, especially when contrasted to the private sorrow that the sisters share.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As with all first novels, comparisons to previously published works are sure to be made. Some reviewers view this novel as an Iranian version of Chocolat ( which is a fair enough assessment) since both books celebrate the pleasure and magical qualities of food.

The year is 1980 and the three Aminpour sisters, have escaped Iran's revolution and settled in a small Irish village intent on opening a business and building a new life. With her savory recipes and personable characters, Mehran cooks up an intoxicating concoction that transports the reader back in time to an Ireland that has not yet been urbanized. She manages to capture the simple wisdom of free spirited, nurturing and tolerant women unknowingly drawn into conflict with an egotistical, overbearing, repressive man. It is a novel of opposites.....good versus evil, sour versus sweet, cold versus hot, acceptance versus rejection.

In addition, the author shares eleven treasured recipes and intertwines them into this tale of family, friends and food. You might say that this is the original "fusion cuisine".
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Format: Hardcover
"Pomegranate Soup" follows the lives of three sisters exiled from Iran: the eldest, Marjan, a talented chef, the middle sister Bahar, haunted by an abusive husband and fleeing from a violent past, and the youngest, fifteen-year-old Lalya, who turns heads with her Oriental beauty and mysterious cinnamon and rosewater scent.

The three arrive in the sleepy, close-minded Irish village of Ballinacroagh determined to open an Iranian restaurant, which turns out to be exactly what the bland community needs. The restaurant, though slow to take off, is eventually a success, and the three sisters soon have a network of friends and staunch regulars to defend them from the vicious gossips and bullying Thomas McGuire, who wants to buy out the Babylon Café in order to turn it into a disco.

Marjan blossoms, creating an herb and flower garden from nearly barren soil and using her talent in the kitchen to bring a touch of the magical to people's lives: the closet comedian Father Mahoney, who is transformed by Marjan's abgusht, the gentle, lonely widow Estelle Delmonico, who takes the girls under her wing and is soothed by the exotic teas served from Marjan's samovar, Fiona Athey, unwilling hairdresser with a thespian past, and Malachy McGuire, Thomas's sensitive Iberian son (product of his wife's fling with a shipwrecked Spanish sailor) who falls in love with Layla.

The novel is beautifully written, woven with flashbacks from Revolutionary Iran, wisps of Persian, and sprinkled with delicious-sounding Persian recipes for dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves), red lentil soup, baklava, dugh, abgusht, fritters, lavash bread, torshi, chelow, fesenjoon, a tribal herbal headache remedy (nutmeg, cardamom, cloves), and pomegranate soup, all of which are key players in the novel.
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Format: Hardcover
For many years, Papa's Pastries shop provided the citizens of Ballinacroagh, Ireland with the tantalizing scents of freshly baked breads and sweets. When Papa Delmonico passed away, his wife, Estelle, unable to manage the shop alone with her arthritis, closed its doors and retreated to her home at the edge of town. The shop remained empty for many years. The paint faded and chipped. The plastic cloths melted into the table tops. Dust gathered on the floor and the windows grew dim from disinterest.

The Aminpour sisters were forced to leave their native Iran and need to make a new life for themselves. The oldest sister, Marjan, turns to what she knows best-cooking-and decides to open an Iranian Café. Fate and family connections bring them to Ballinacroaugh, a town that sits at the base of the mountain where St. Patrick prayed, fasted and blessed the people of Ireland. Traditions run strong and deep in Ballinacroagh. When this trio of mysterious dark skinned women drive into town in an old hippie bus and re-open the former Pastry shop as the Babylon Café, tongues start wagging.

Marsha Mehran's debut novel is astonishing for a new writer. She delivers the thoughts, motives and emotions of her characters with the crisp pungency of a Middle Eastern bazaar. I can't remember when I last felt compelled to read a book in a single sitting, but I absolutely could not put it down. I vow that I will rush to get on the waiting list for the next book by this talented author.
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