Summary and book reviews of Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Pomegranate Soup

By Marsha Mehran

Pomegranate Soup
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2005,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2006,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

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 triumphs 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.

Chapter Two


Red Lentil Soup


Ingredients:
2 cups dry red lentils
7 large onions, chopped
7 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 teaspoons ground cumin
Olive oil
5 cups chicken broth
5 cups water
Salt
2 teaspoons nigella seeds*

* Ground black pepper may be substituted

Place lentils in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for 9 minutes. Drain and place aside. In a large stockpot, fry 6 of the chopped onions, garlic, turmeric, and cumin in olive oil until golden. Transfer lentils, broth, and water to the pot. Add salt, nigella seed or pepper to taste. Bring soup to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. Fry the remaining onion in olive oil until crisp but not blackened. Add as a garnish over individual bowls of soup.



From her bedroom window, in a flat above the Reek Relics shop, Dervla Quigley could see the universe. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Each chapter in Pomegranate Soup begins with a traditional Persian recipe, which is then incorporated into the story like a character. Why do you think the author has chosen to highlight the food in this manner? How do you think the recipes guide the narrative? Is there one recipe that resonated more with you than the others? Why?
     
  2. We first meet the three Aminpour sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla, in the kitchen of the new Babylon Café. Discuss how this setting offers a glimpse into the differences in their personalities. If you have siblings, do you recognize the dynamics between the three sisters?
     
  3. Marjan cooks in accordance to the Zoroastrian system of gastronomic balancing, known as sard and...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

If you liked Joanne Harris's Chocolat, you're going to love Pomegranate Soup - a tale as warm and vibrant as the bubbling samovar around which the cafe hums; but don't be mistaken into thinking that just because this first novel is as comforting as a good cup of tea that it is not without substance.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (449 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Frank Delaney, author of Ireland
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.

Booklist - Mark Knoblauch

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.

Publishers Weekly

Mehran's mauve prose gets especially purple sometimes but fans of cooking....overcomes-cultural-differences stories will savor the tale, not to mention the 13 recipes, including one for pomegranate soup.

Kirkus Reviews

The mix of cutesy and harsh can be awkward, but first-timer Mehran's lighthearted voice will win readers over.

Library Journal

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.

Chicago Tribune

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.

Reader Reviews
Sarah T

A tried and tested recipe
This book's formula is not original, it is exactly the same as Chocolat. However, it is a good format that delivers an enjoyable and unchallenging read. The addition of recipes adds cultural colour and interest, and it taps into our love and longing ...   Read More

Kay

Great Little Book
This was a facinationg story of three sisters from Iran who open a cafe in a tiny town in Ireland. The characters come alive and are people you would find in your own neighborhood. I found most interesting and fun, the recipes that are included...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Marsha Mehran was born in Iran, on the eve of the Islamic Revolution. Amidst the increasing chaos her parents decided to emigrate to America - they were luckier than most as they had a modest nest egg and letters of acceptance from the University of Arizona, but they needed visas. On November 4, 1979, her father planned to file their visa applications with the American Embassy, but a band of revolutionary students bombarded the consulate and took the employees hostage. This momentous turn of events, known ...

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