Today’s post is written by Jennifer from Circulation Services.
The story of three sisters seems to be deeply ingrained in our human subconscious. There are the mythological Weird Sisters, the women of Ang Lee’s film Eat Drink Man Woman, and those of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, to name just a few examples. One could even go so far as to contemplate the “Three Sisters” method of planting beans, squash, and corn, used throughout North America in pre-Columbian times. The motif is not limited to any single culture, and more often than not, as in Lee and Esquivel’s works, the lives of the three sisters are intimately connected to the food that they cook and enjoy.
Marsha Mehran’s novel Rosewater and Soda Bread is a fine addition to this little niche of a subgenre. After fleeing their home country of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the three Aminpour sisters open Babylon Café in the tiny Irish town of Ballinacroagh. Practical Marjan, the oldest, is trying to keep the café (and everyone’s lives) running smoothly while being pursued by a dashing English gentleman. Middle sister Bahar bears a heavy burden from a troubled past, but is finding solace in an unexpected place. And the youngest, Layla, is a Shakespeare aficionado who just wants a little independence from her older sisters – and time to spend with her boyfriend. As if life isn’t complicated enough, their landlady and former pastry chef Mrs. Delmonico finds a “mermaid” washed up on the beach. Who is she, where did she come from – and what about the baby on the way?
Much like a rambler in the hilly Irish countryside, Rosewater and Soda Bread is unhurried in reaching its destination, minding small details and occasionally taking detours. This is part of the book’s charm, though, especially when Mehran describes Marjan’s cooking and its effect on those who consume it. For (most of) the residents of Ballinacroagh, Bablyon Café’s food and drink are synonymous with comfort. Indeed, the best word to describe Mehran’s prose would probably be “cozy.” I would highly recommend settling in with the book on a rainy day, a hot cup of bergamot tea by your side, and letting yourself be enraptured by the charm and intrigue of the Aminpour sisters’ adopted hometown.
Recipes for many of the dishes referenced in the story can be found in the back of the book, something for which I’m very grateful. I nearly drooled when reading the description of Marjan’s tacheen, a saffron rice and chicken dish: “…first buttered rice and almonds, then fried chicken and sautéed spinach, the yogurt binding them into a brotherhood of delicious play.” Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? I would recommend this book for gourmands, anyone interested in Irish culture, those who are fascinated by what happens when cultures from thousands of miles apart meet – and by how sharing a meal can help break down even the most seemingly insurmountable barriers.
Check the WRL catalog for Rosewater and Soda Bread