Three Iranian sisters open a restaurant in rural Ireland—in a debut that uses recipes in the heart- and stomach-warming (or -churning, depending on one’s taste for the genre) tradition of Like Water for Chocolate.
Marjan, Bahar and Layla Aminpour escaped from Iran to arrive in England the day the Shah was deposed, seven years before the story begins. Now 27, Marjan brings 24-year-old Bahar, who has trained and worked in London as a nurse, and 15-year-old Layla to Ballinacroagh, in County Mayo, to open the Babylon Café. Each chapter opens with one of Marjan’s recipes, then intertwines the recipe into the events that follow. The villagers are your typical Irish stereotypes: bullying pub owner, narrow-minded gossip, goodhearted priest, lonely widow, disgraced actress turned hairdresser and unwed mother. While the locals resist at first, the magic of Marjan’s cooking soon wins them over. But the pub owner, Thomas McGuire, has eyes on the space the Aminpours have leased for their restaurant and vows to sink them. Meanwhile, his dreamy and handsome son (or at least his wife’s son) falls in love with Layla. As the leisurely soap opera of village life plays out—the priest puts on a play, the lonely widow mothers the sisters, the villain’s plot is foiled—readers also learn the heartbreaking story of the Aminpours’ flight from Iran. Raising her sisters after their parents’ deaths, Marjan was drawn into revolutionary activities by her childhood sweetheart and briefly imprisoned, while Bahar fell under the thumb of a fundamentalist neighbor and married the woman’s sadistic son. After a particularly vicious encounter with Bahar’s husband, the sisters fled. Now they’ve come to Ballinacroagh to hide from Bahar’s husband, who had tracked them to London. That stark story sits uneasily alongside the predictable comedy-drama of Ballinacroagh.
The mix of cutesy and harsh can be awkward, but first-timer Mehran’s lighthearted voice will win readers over.