Book Review: Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Pomegranate Soup follows in the footsteps of Chocolat, Babbette’s Feast and Like Water for Chocolate by melding food with story. However, this book is understandably darker, with possible exception for LWFC, in particular in dealing with the history of the Iranian sisters.

Three Iranian sisters, Marjan, Bahar, and Layla, take up residence in a small Ireland village to open a restaurant. They find opposition in Tom Maguire, who had hoped to use the restaurant for his own ambitious purposes, but also friendship, such as with their widowed landlady, Estelle Delmonico. Most of the dark action take place in the sisters’ past, and I found myself gripped with what happened there more than the idyllic, slow-life they now live in Ireland.

I think there could’ve been more. The book’s pretty slim at 222 pages, and while it tried to bring in the whimsy of Chocolat in its slow pace of the foreigners fitting into a harsh countryside, the girls’ past broke that idyllic past, making the book more dark than it should. And yet, I found the past story all the more compelling. Granted, it was nice to see all the characters with their own idiosyncrasies, but it felt like they didn’t get enough time to flesh them out. For instance, Estelle could have merited a whole chapter to herself. Why did she, an Italian immigrant wind up in Ireland? Why didn’t she go back when her husband died? What kept her there in the village when she was obviously miserable?

Also, while the girls’ past was compelling, I kept getting the feeling that Mehran was trying to bring in the same intensity with the village, but she couldn’t really push the envelope. She reached a certain level and then…wussed out. Like the entire character of Tom McGuire. He’s portrayed as a bully, but that’s all he really is–all blustery talk, but no real action. And when his son, Tom Junior, attacked Layla towards the end of the story, the story got really intense…then petered out. His actions afterwards was somewhat lame…in fact, he pretty much snuck out of the story altogether without any real resolution or confrontation. I felt somewhat cheated.

Layla’s romance with Malachy was sweet, but somewhat boring after a while. The ending was too neatly wrapped up in a positive way. As for the recipes, I actually found them distracting. At the beginning, it was fun to read them. But as we get to know more about the girls, they just got in the way and by the end, I was skipping over them altogether. They felt redundant because we get the same gist of the recipes within the text itself, with Marjan making most of the recipes.

Despite all this criticism, however, I did like reading it. The descriptions of the food had my mouth watering, and the sisters’  love for each other, despite their different temperaments, were nice to read. I wish that Mehran started the book in Iran instead of Ireland. She didn’t have to hide the girl’s story behind food and a sleepy village.

This gets 2 1/2 bowls of soup out of 5. Tasty, somewhat satisfying, but still leaving me hungry enough for the next course.