Soupís on as Iranian Author Sets Tale in Ireland
By Michele Lea Robinson
"I had always thought I that I would spend my life in front of a keyboard
Ė I just never realized it would be a computer and not that of a piano'"
said Marsha Mehran, author of Pomegranate Soup (Random House, ISBN:
1400062411). Mehranís debut novel, already published in 11 countries including
Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Holland, was released in the U.S. this past
Mehran started training to be a concert pianist at 7-years-old and finally
quit at 18, no longer wanting a life in music. But this is not where the
story of Marsha Mehran began. She was born in Tehran, Iran, at the beginning
of the Islamic revolution.
Mehran's family fled its homeland in 1979 when living situations worsened
for the Bahais, a religious minority. After a failed attempt to get educational
visas to the States, Mehran's parents, Abbas Mehran and Shahin Heirati-Pour,
settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since then, Mehran has lived in the
Miami; Adelaide, Australia; New York; and Turlough, Co. Mayo, where she
works on her next novel.
Never hesitating to call Ireland 'home," Mehran can view the majestic
Croagh Patrick and "two donkey's, a herd of sheep, and a very disgruntled
goat" from the cottage she shares with Irish-born husband, Christopher
Collins. Wanting to experience Collin's homeland as a couple, they moved
to Ireland where the seeds to her first novel began to take root.
Mehran was partly inspired by the smell of peat fires, fiddle seisuns,
and Irish humor, but also the impression of a Middle Eastern family that
reminded her of her own parents after escaping the revolution. Collins
and Mehran met in New York at Ryan's Irish Pub, after she left Australia
at age 19.
"Fifteen Malibu Bay Breezers later, I was smitten with the charming
bartender before me" Mehran jokes of their courtship. Collins, a traveler
himself, has managed bars all over the world. "It was pretty instant for
me. I knew she was the One. Mind you, she was the one to ask me to marry
her Ė proposed in the phone eight months later," Collins said. More seriously,
Mehran felt there was something "fatalistic" about marrying the man who
is her husband.
As a little girl in Buenos Aires, she had attended St. Anthony's, a
private Scottish academy, that gave her a "lifetime love for all things
Celtic." While his work takes him away at night, Mehran works on her next
Although Collins "pleads the fifth" before commenting on the state of
his wife at work, he simply said he contributes to her writing with a cup
of Earl Grey tea and staying out of her way. Back in New York, Mehran began
writing her first manuscript in a "closet of a space" in her Brooklyn apartment.
While in New York, she met with her agent, Adam Chromy, and signed a contract
"She told me she had a dream, and in the dream she had an agent that
was just like me and that I must sign her," said Chromy. Throughout the
year, Chromy checked on Mehran and her novel, a dark story about Iranian-American
sisters who open their new Babylon Cafe in the Irish hamlet of Ballinacroagh.
But the story was not unfolding as Mehran hoped. "It got so bad that
I was dreading going to the computer," she lamented. Yet with a deadline
looming, Mehran began a new tale. In six weeks, she was able to create
a story encompassing the dark images of revolution, the struggle to create
a new home and the hope for the future.
Of her previous manuscript, Mehran said, "It dawned on me something
was missing from my story -- a sense of joy. A happiness and vitality that
is particular to Iranians, to Persian culture itself." More than that,
11 original Persian recipes index Mehran's novel, a page directly from
her own life. Her parents opened "El Pollo Loco," a Middle Eastern café
in Buenos Aires. It was a natural move because Mehranís father worked as
a chef for many years and food was very important in the home of her youth.
Besides, the smells and sounds of the café kitchen, Mehran's
mother used food as a way to temper young Marsha. Influenced by Zoroastrianism,
Shahin would feed her daughter garm foods, food to raise her energy
levels or sard foods to calm her. Though Mehran is not a Zoroastrian,
she does find its principles "grounding." She said that "the notion of
finding balance in your life is very pertinent to my life and writing."
Cooking relaxes the young author. She often experiments in the kitchen,
her fortunate husband as a guinea pig. Collins admits he that Mehran has
opened his mind to dishes he would not have thought to try before. Her
favorite dish is gheimeh, a tomato-based stew made with yellow split
peas, lamb and French-fried potatoes.
Mehran describes cooking as "the perfect expression of love." For Mehran,
and Persian culture in general, food brings the family together, where
eating around the sofreh (a handwoven dining cloth) brings about
stories and a sense of community. If Pomegranate Soup was grounded
in Mehran's experiences, the community that is created is one where the
gap between the East and West is not so large.
When first living in Ireland, Mehran recalls that her darker skin and
Persian features were mistaken for Japanese or Chinese by curious passersby.
"I wanted to express the beauty of my birth place a vision I knew was
incongruous with the dark, violent images Westerners see when they think
of Iran." Mehran says of her novel. After signing Mehran, Chromy was anxious
to sell her first novel.
"The Middle East was in the news, publishers were looking for books
on the subject, and I wanted to strike while the iron was hot." Chromy
wa so entranced with the story, he pulled off the road to read Pomegranate
Soup while seated in his car.
Of Mehran's cooking, agent Chromy says very matter-of-fact, "It was
Beyond finishing her next novel, the future holds more traveling, Mehran
says, laughing that "we are getting itchy feet and feel the need for city
As for Collins, heís planning to open a bar in Brooklyn once his wife
is established and getting the attention he said he felt Mehran deserves.