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"Pomegranate Soup" by Marsha Mehran

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Not everyone in Marsha Mehran’s Pomegranate Soup is sweet-tempered, but the story itself bursts with the sweetness of family, charity, and excellent food. Capturing the harrowing history of three Iranian sisters who just manage to escape the country during the revolution of 1979, the narrative finds them, seven years on, in what seems like their last chance at refuge, on the west coast of Ireland.

The citizens of this town fit into some fairly straightforward types: the town magnate/bully; an old gossip-monger, bitter and incontinent; the friendly, nonconforming hairdresser. But these props serve the story of the more nuanced sisters, who struggle with haunting memories and the pressures of establishing a café. Dramatic tension builds as the pushy entrepreneur does everything he can to run them out of town, and his dull, pushy son nearly succeeds when he assaults the youngest sister, only 15 years old.

Characters sometimes act from motivation that strains credulity: the middle sister runs off without a note or a call on fairly flimsy grounds. A dim and hopeless shopkeeper believes in leprechauns because of miscreant teenagers, and the attempted aggression against the young girl honestly seems a bolt from the blue. But: this is a generous story about healing; each chapter opens with a recipe for a traditional Iranian dish; the parish priest writes a ribald and very funny play; the café’s grandmotherly landlady looks after the girls with sage advice and minestrone.

This is a lovely confection on balance. Take it up, and follow a small interlude in the lives of these young lovelies, one that promises that the best is yet to come.
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