CULTURAL CONNECTION Author Marsha Mehran is pictured in the shadow of Croagh Patrick for a special cover feature that appeared in the Irish Independent Weekend magazine in July 2005. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Shock at death of reclusive author
Mehran merged Persian spice with Reek mysticism
IRANIAN-born author Marsha Mehran’s deep love of holy mountain Croagh Patrick adds to the poignancy of the discovery of her body in her apartment in the seaside village of Lecanvey last week.
The dramatic discovery was made last Wednesday by a local letting agent, it has emerged. Gardaí have since confirmed there was nothing suspicious regarding the circumstances of her death, while a post-mortem was carried out in Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, last week. It is understood that she led a reclusive life and may have been dead for more than a week.
The late Ms Mehran’s debut novel, ‘Pomegranate Soup’, is set in a fictitious village, Ballinacroagh, at the bottom of the Reek and, in many ways, echoes her personal journey about an ordinary family fleeing Muslim fundamentalism. The pomegranate is the fruit of hope in Iran.
The internationally-acclaimed novel tells the story of three beautiful Persian sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla Aminpour who, having fled a bloody Islamic revolution, find themselves in Ballinacroagh where they decide to open a Middle-Eastern café, called the Babylon Café. While many locals are soon lured to the café by the spicy aromas of such exotic dishes as dolmeh and abgusht, not everyone welcomes the Aminpours with open arms.
The machinations of the uncrowned king of the area, the devious Thomas McGuire, who uses all his power to stifle the ‘nasty reek of foreignness [which] was definitely in the air’, are stymied by his son, Malachy, who becomes smitten by the youngest sister, Layla.
Marsha Mehran was born in Tehran on the eve of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Her parents, Abbas Mehran and Shahin Heirati-Pour, were not religious and had no ideological ties to the revolution. They happened, however, to come from old Bah’ai families and were thus considered infidels by orthodox Muslims.
Their plans to escape the repressive regime and find a new life in the US were, however, foiled when on November 4, 1979, the day they had scheduled to file their visa applications, the American Embassy was stormed by a group of militant Muslim students and the employees taken hostage. (The recent Ben Affleck movie, ‘Argo’, is based on the stand-off which lasted for 444 days.)
Luckier than many of their fellow Iranians, the Mehrans had a modest nest-egg which helped to facilitate a move to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where they opened a café called the El Pollo Loco (The Crazy Chicken), which initiated the four-year-old Marsha’s love-affair with food.
MEHRAN’S odyssey to the west of Ireland began on a busy Friday night in Ryan’s Irish Pub on 2nd Avenue in New York in 1999, where she met Mayo man, Christopher Collins. They subsequently married in Adelaide, Australia and later moved to a small cottage in Mayo. Reportedly, the couple recently divorced.
At the time of the publication of Pomegranate Soup, in 2005, Ms Mehran spoke about living ‘in a small cottage in Mayo that boasted an awesome view of Croagh Patrick’.
“The mountain quickly came to inhabit my imagination, its dispassionate presence is so powerful, so evocative. That along with the smell of peat fires, the spirited fiddle seisiúns, and the cracking humour of the Irish,” she said.
She explained that her fascination with Celtic culture, landscape and people was sparked during her early education at a private Scottish school in Argentina where pupils wore kilts and were regularly serenaded by the bagpipes. But the deep impact of her middle-eastern origins and legacy never left her, and Pomegranate Soup is a cleverly juxtaposed celebration of that and Irish culture.
“There is a happiness and vitality that is particular to Iranians, to Persian culture itself. I wanted to express the beauty of my birthplace, a vision, I know, only too well, was incongruous with the dark and violent images Westerners see when they think of Iran. Above all, I wanted readers to smell and taste one of Iran’s greatest contributions to the world: its delicate, perfumed cuisine,” Marsha Mehran said in Campbell’s Pub, Murrisk, in 2005.
Ms Mehran’s remains are due to be cremated this week. The best-selling ‘Pomegranate Soup’ (2005) has been translated into 15 languages and published in over 20 countries. Her second novel, ‘Rosewater and Soda Bread’ was published in 2008. ‘The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty’, which Mehran set in Buenos Aires during the Falklands War, is due to be published later this year.
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