In an increasingly interconnected world, the mixing of cultures should no longer come as a surprise. So it is refreshing when an author comes along who can showcase an intriguing new combination. Writer Marsha Mehran escaped the religious revolution in Iran as a child and traveled with her family to Argentina, Florida and Australia before following her heart to New York and Ireland. She underpinned this dizzying array of cultural experiences with a love of her native Persian cuisine. The first literary result of her wanderings is an enchanting tale of three sisters struggling to make a new life for themselves in the Emerald Isle.
Pomegranate Soup is a wonderful treat, a flavorful, rich little dish that does not weigh one down. Touches of magical realism abound: people exude scents of cinnamon and rosewater, onions cook in tightly clenched fists and drops of blood bloom into full-blown roses. Mehran has an unerring eye for detail, and she applies it well to her description of the three sisters: Marjan, the eldest, nurturing and responsible; Bahar, the middle sister, nervous and tortured with memories of the past; and Layla, the youngest, a luminously beautiful teenager who transcends the narrow confines of both cultures. Fortune lands them in the village of Ballinacroagh which, sheltered in the lea of a holy mountain regularly visited by pious pilgrims, is unprepared for the exotic aromas wafting out of the newly opened Babylon CafÅ½. But the villagers' initial mistrust is soon overcome; the vicious gossip, if not silenced, is ignored; and the sisters find allies among the town's colorful residents. Their success, however, is soon threatened by a shadow from the past and a threat from the present, driving them to desperation. Cruelty and greed do not recognize national borders. But luckily, neither does love.
As a beguiling extra, recipes for such delicacies as lavash bread, chelow rice, and fesenjoon, a chicken dish made with walnuts and pomegranate paste, are scattered throughout the book, tempting the adventurous to try their hand. Even non-cooks, though, will be beguiled by Pomegranate Soup's zest for life. Jehanne Moharram grew up in the Middle East and now writes from Virginia.