Marsha Mehran: Author who fled Iran with her family then went on to publish the best-selling novel ‘Pomegranate Soup’


Marsha Mehran was less than a year old when revolution filled the air in her native Iran in 1978. On 8 September the Shah’s army opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in Tehran’s Jaleh Square, killing 88.

Marsha’s middle-class father knew the massacre would signal the end of the Shah’s regime, long supported by the US and the UK.

He got his family and his money out, initially to Argentina, predicting that the Shah would soon be forced out and an Islamic Republic installed. He was right. The revolution was complete by February 1979. With a gift for writing and having grown up multi-lingual, with noticeable Farsi, Argentinian, Australian and Irish accents, Mehran would go on to write about the 1979 Iranian revolution and its consequences – not politically, but from a human point of view, using fiction as a screen.

She was found dead, alone and apparently unmissed for at least a week, in a village on the extreme north-west coast of her adopted Ireland, close to the computer screen which had become her closest friend, the bearer of the words of a childless lady. She was only 36. How she died is not yet known but police said there was no foul play and neighbours said she had become reclusive, apparently dedicated to her writing.

Mehran had married an Irishman and settled in Co Mayo by the time she wrote and published her debut novel, Pomegranate Soup, in 2005, about three expatriate Iranian sisters, the Aminpours, who have fled the revolution and settled in an Irish village, a place of “crazed sheep and dizzying roads.” It was, as she had no problem admitting, a novel of magical realism inspired by the late Colombian genius Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

For the work of a first-time novelist Pomegranate Soup was a huge international success, translated into more than a dozen languages and published in at least 20 countries. “I wanted to write a happy story, something uplifting and a joy to read,” she said. “Nothing woven, textual, literary. Just something that would make me happy. Food makes me happy. When you cook for someone, you are extending your heart to them; that’s how Persians feel. You are trusting them with what you make.”

Because it was largely based in a café and included (in this case Persian) recipes, critics compared it with the Joanne Harris novel Chocolat, which became an acclaimed film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.

In Pomegranate Soup the Babylon Café, the novel’s scenic centre, initially confuses the local Irish villagers unused to the scents of saffron, cinnamon and cardamom wafting down their streets as the three sisters cook red lentil soup, abgusht stew or rosewater baklava. The book’s local pub landlord, Thomas McGuire, is not happy about those scents invading his own aromas of boiled cabbage and Guinness. Nor is he happy about three exotic ladies – foreigners! – attracting more customers than he, including the local priest Fergal Mahoney (a former stand-up comedian), the lonely widow Estelle Demonico and the hairdresser Fiona Athey.

One critic described Pomegranate Soup as “an infectious novel of magical realism, a delectable journey into the heart of Persian cooking and Irish living.” Matador Films have optioned the book. A sequel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, followed in 2008 and another novel, which she had apparently finished shortly before she died, may come out later this year. It is provisionally titled The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty and is set in Argentina, where Mehran grew up, during the Falklands war.

Locals in the Irish village where she settled, wrote and died said they knew she was a writer but rarely saw her. They said she had married a local boy, Christopher Collins, who, years earlier, as a bartender in Ryan’s Bar in Manhattan, had seen her walk in and taken a risk, asking her, “Will you marry me and come back to my country?” Brought up feeling homeless, she did. They were later separated but she stayed on in the village of Lecanvey, near Murrisk, almost unnoticed, until an estate agent found her body, saying she was as beautiful in death as she had been in life.

In an interview in 2005, just after the success of Pomegranate Soup, she said: “When people ask me where I am from, I say I am Persian, born in Iran. I write and dream in English, I curse in Spanish and, after a few pints of Guinness, I dance a mighty Irish jig.”

Marsha Mehran, novelist: born Tehran 11 November 1977; married Christopher Collins (separated); found dead Lecanvey, Co Mayo, Ireland 30 April 2014.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London