Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
I bought Rosewater & Soda Bread second hand after being attracted by its cover art but also because its author is a member of the Iranian diaspora and I enjoy reading about Iran. This is the 2nd novel by Marsha Mehran, an author who, like her protagonists (three orphaned sisters) left Iran on the eve of the revolution. Mehran has also lived in Ireland, which is where her novel is set. Mehran’s parents ran a cafe as do her protagonists.
The three foci of the book are food, faith and love with some magic realism associated with food and healing. There were ccertainly aspects of the book that I enjoyed reading, such as the descriptions of Persian food, pleasant evocations of Irish countryside, and about the lives of Irish villagers. I particularly liked Estelle, the widowed Italian woman who pines for her husband, and Fiona the hairdresser who encourages her lovesick staff member to read The Female Eunuch. However, I had higher hopes for the scope of the story and the character development than Mehran was able to deliver. It’s a light story that features a love story that is unbelievable, between the eldest sister Marjan and landed gentry Julian, a focus on religion that made me feel uncomfortable, and a sub-story about a teenage girl who tries to abort a baby. The attempted abortion is scandalous (and illegal) in 1980s Ireland and Mehran gives some interesting background into the topic. The story of the girl left me scratching my head however because it seemed implausible that she would do that to herself.
Mehran alludes to suffering of the two older sisters in Iran but she does not give details. That sounds like I want to read about misery but I actually was just looking for more substance. It’s easy to allude to past suffering but more difficult to substantiate it in a believable way. I realise that Rosewater & Soda Bread is the sequel to Pomegranate Soup, which I haven’t read, and Mehran probably develops the back story of her characters in that novel. However, the edition that I read does not indicate that it is a sequel, so I think that Mehran needed to do a better job of making this a truly standalone novel.