Wednesday 30 December 2020

Rosewater and Soda Bread

Finished December 26
Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran

This novel takes place in small town Ireland but the main characters are immigrants from Iran, three sisters that live together and run a cafe. 
The oldest sister Marjan Aminpour is the heart of the business and the driving force. She has guilt from her absence from the family during a crisis, one that led to deep sadness for her middle sister Bahar. She has never told her sisters where she was during those days she was missing, that she'd been active in the actions against the Shah's government in Iran, partly due to her love for a young man, and that the printing operation they were running had been raided and she'd been in prison and been tortured. It is this experience that compelled her to focus on her sisters, and when Bahar returned from her ordeal, it was her that organized their flight from Iran to England, and now to Ireland. 
Her friendship in London with another Irish transplant, a woman her own age whose mother came to Ireland from Italy is what brought them to this town a year ago. Her subsequent friendship with the mother, Estelle, brings her into another situation with a girl running from a bad situation. We don't learn her whole story until near the end of the novel, but it is a compelling one. 
We also see the role of the old guard, the ones that resent change and newcomers and the loss of their power in the community. Here, this is personified by the widow Dervla who lives across the street from the Aminpours and she spends most of her day at her front window watching and judging. She has a group of other women who bring her gossip from further afield that she then tries to act on. 
The youngest sister, Layla is a confident schoolgirl, in love with a local boy and wanting to control her own life and fate through her informed decisions. Marjan must learn how to trust Layla to make those decisions, and also how to help accept Bahar's decisions to move forward with her life in an unexpected direction. 
There are other things going on in the town, from the local priest who becomes a pirate DJ on the side, the local doctor, an immigrant from Pakistan who must walk a careful line to stay out of trouble, and the prodigal landowner who has returned to remake the family manor as a destination inn and restaurant. 
And among it all are the seasonal celebrations like Bonfire Night and All Hallows Eve, and of course the food, both Iranian and Irish. Lucky for the reader, several recipes are included here. 

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