Reading guide for Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

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Pomegranate Soup

by Marsha Mehran

Pomegranate Soup
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2005, 240 pages
    Sep 2006, 256 pages

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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 garm. As one of the world's first monotheistic religions, Zoroastrianism introduced the dual ideas of good and evil, which are now practiced in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Have you ever heard of Zoroastrianism or the concepts of sard and garm, cold and hot foods? How is this balancing system similar to eating habits in the West? How is it different?
  4. Why do you think the author has chosen to set Pomegranate Soup in 1980s Ireland, instead of today? How do you think the village of Ballinacroagh perpetuates the fairytale image tourists often have of Ireland? In what ways, if any, does Ballinacroagh differ from this idealized picture?
  5. The Aminpour sisters escape Tehran on the eve of the Islamic Revolution. What do you know of Iran's history, particularly the revolution of 1979? Were you surprised to read that the Shah was as unpopular as he was with many Iranians? If you were around during the time of the revolution, what images do you remember receiving about it through media outlets in the West?
  6. Both Marjan and Bahar were romantically involved with men who supported the Islamic Revolution. These relationships led the two women to perform revolutionary activities, which they later regretted. Do you feel either sister has come to terms with her violent past? Have you ever felt like you've lost your moral compass in a relationship?
  7. In the classical Greek myth of Persephone, Demeter, the goddess of Spring, has a daughter named Persephone who is kidnapped by Hades, god of the Underworld. Have you ever heard of this myth? What parallels do you see between this myth and the three sisters' story?
  8. The Babylon Café provides a venue for dreams to flourish. Discuss how the food and the sisters' temperaments influence the villagers to pursue dreams that may have lay hidden, even to themselves. Have you ever experienced a quiet epiphany such as the one that Father Mahoney has over a bowl of abgusht? Or was your moment of transformation more pronounced, as Tom Junior's in the Cat's cottage?
  9. What parallels do you find between Ballinacroagh's bully, Thomas McGuire, and Hossein Jaferi in Iran? What are the differences? Is Thomas McGuire's malevolence born of evil, or is his villainy more pathetic, even humorous, perhaps? Can you think of any other parallels between the sisters' experiences in the Irish village and revolution-era Iran?
  10. Marjan, Bahar, and Layla try to protect one another from the memories of the past. Discuss the various forms in which this protection is exhibited. How is this over-protectiveness similar to events you might have experienced in your own life? Do you relate to any one sister's methods more?
  11. Croagh Patrick looms protectively over the village of Ballinacroagh. The holy mountain is where the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, reportedly took his Lenten fast, banishing the evil spirits that had haunted him his entire life. What roles do Croagh Patrick and Saint Patrick play in Bahar's self-revelation?  What do you think initially sparked her desire to climb the mountain?
  12. Young Layla and Malachy provide a romantic subplot for the story, but they also embody the future.  Do you agree with this observation? Discuss.
  13. What would you like to see happen to the three sisters after the story ends? Do you think they have found a home in Ballinacroagh? Do you think they are ready to heal from the painful events of their past?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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