Hannibal Free Public Library

Pomegranate Soup

Marsha Mehran

March 30, 2009

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran is set in the Irish hamlet of Ballinacroagh, the unlikely new home for three Iranian sisters and their new Babylon Cafe. The kitchen of an old pastry shop on Main Mall becomes Persian oasis, and sensuous wafts of cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron soon float through the streets.  A shock to a town that generally subsists on boiled cabbage and Guinness served at the local tavern. 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.  Can the provincial Irish welcome the "foreigners"? Will the sisters triumph? But of course!

About the Author:

Born in Tehran, Iran, Marsha Mehran escaped the Revolution with her family. She has since lived in such diverse places as Buenos Aires, The United States, Australia and Ireland. Her first novel, Pomegranate Soup was an international bestseller, and her second novel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, continues the adventures of the three Aminpour sisters. She lives in New York, where she is busy spinning more tales.


Discussion Questions: 

  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 chose to highlight the food in this manner? How do you think the recipes guide the narrative?
  1. 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?
  2. Marjan cooks in accordance to the Zoroastrian system of gastronomic balancing, known as sard and garm (cold and hot foods).  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.  How is this balancing system similar to eating habits in the West? How is it different? 
  1. Pomegranate Soup has been termed a novel of magical realism or a fairytale by reviewers.  Is it believable?  Does it need to be believable to be effective as a novel?
  1. How important is the Irish setting and quintessential Irish characters to the charm of the story?  Could the novel’s setting be relocated to Hannibal or another locale?  Why or why not?
  1. 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?
  2.   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.  What parallels do you see between this myth and the three sisters’ story?  
  1. 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 from themselves.
  2.  What parallels do you find between Ballinacroagh’s bully, Thomas McGuire, and Hossein Jaferi in Iran? What are the differences?  Can you think of any other parallels between the sisters’ experiences in the Irish village and revolution-era Iran? 
  1. 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?
  1. 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?

 Discussion questions, and information about the book and the author were adapted from www.randomhouse.com, www.celestialseasoningsbookclub.com, and book reviews found in Booklist and Publishers Weekly.