Mr. Mehran, your story is very much like millions of other Iranian families that after the revolution who left their country for a better life. However, you chose to go to Argentina. How did that influence the two year old Marsha? Did you find any similarities between the two cultures?
Argentina was not the country of our choice; we wanted to go to USA to continue our education. However, before we could get our visas, the embassy was seized by the revolutionary students, and therefore, we decided to go to Argentina.
Marsha lived more than four years in Buenos Aires, and during an age when she could absorb a lot of information about many cultures and languages. She was deeply affected by the culture of her new country of residence. She learned how to speak Spanish, before attending preschool, by playing with a neighbor girl of the same age. She watched TV in Spanish and with different type of music, dance, and movies. All of these diverse experiences, plus learning environment at the Scottish school, created a rich stimulus for her mental growth.
Why did you choose a Gaelic school for Marsha to attend?
We wanted the best education for her, and besides that, our aim was the USA; therefore, learning English was beneficial to Marsha. St Andrews Scottish School was one of the best schools in Buenos Aires.
How was Marsha treated at the school being neither Argentinian nor Gaelic?
OK! Marsha’s appearance, olive-color skin, and black-color hair, and her accent, made her unique, and located her at the center of attention. This, however, made her a target for territorial and racist kids to experiment and enjoy their bullying behavior on her. At first, she had to defend herself alone, therefore, creating some tensions, but with parents and teachers intervention, the situation improved, and she began to enjoy the school and her classmates.
Marsha in her writings display a very deep understanding of the Persian culture. For someone who left Iran at two years of age how was her fondness of the culture of her birthplace shaped?
Marsha’s understanding and fondness of Persian culture were shaped; firstly, by learning from her parents, neighbors, and friends; and secondly, by participating, from early age, in the Persian cultural events, gatherings and ceremonies; and finally, due to her love of Persian culture, by her own research in and study of Persian culture, history and literature.
Did Marsha ever express her wish to return to Iran to visit or live?
To visit? Yes!
To live? No!
After Argentina you left to Miami and then for Australia. What made you choose Australia?
After living more than eight years in Florida, we came to Adelaide, and this has a long story! In short, my wife wanted to move to Australia to be close to her family who had come to Australia a couple of years before. None of us wanted to move to Australia except her. However, as it is the case, SHE won the battle, and we agreed to leave Miami for Adelaide for the sake of maintaining peace in our home. Interestingly and ironically, after our divorce in 1994, my ex wife went back to America, and I stayed in Australia. I remarried with an Australian woman and now living together with our fifteen-year-old son in Victoria.
Marsha left Australia after 5 years. She thought the culture was too homogeneous for her liking. Why didn’t she try to live in a more cosmopolitan city like Sydney or Melbourne?
After more than five years, she went to New York. Marsha’s aim was the USA; therefore, she did not think of Sydney or Melbourne.
Do you think Marsha was influenced much by the Australian culture at all? Was there anything she liked about her third home?
She enjoyed Australians’ friendly nature and attitude. She had many long-lasting friends.
What made her choose to go to U.S.?
Marsha lived in the USA for more than eight years at an age when the place, language, and culture make the most effective impacts and influences on a child. Therefore, she had become more American than Australian.
She had American accent. She had developed an ambitious mental attitude, and had found America a more fertile and culturally enriched ambient for its cultivation and satisfaction.
Marsha and her brother Sam had been identified as gifted and had been placed under an educational program especially developed for exceptional children. These conditions were ignored in Australia, which caused significant damage in their future academic educations.
She said in one of her interviews that she liked Brooklyn. She felt at home more than anywhere else. Why do you think Brooklyn was the place that she found some comfort in?
Unfortunately I can’t answer this question. Obviously, she found some comfort which she could not find in Adelaide. I went to visit her in 2003 in Brooklyn and felt I could live there forever. I am not sure why! To understand this, I believe, one needs to search and study many factors,
She married an Irish man in U.S. But she had visa problems and couldn’t stay there. Why did she have difficulty remaining in U.S. permanently if her husband was living and working there?
That is my question too!
How hard did she try to stay?
Hard enough to cost her and her husband many thousands dollars in lawyer’s fees.
Couldn’t she return to Australia?
Of course; she was an Australian citizen!
Why did she choose to go to Ireland?
She had lived in Ireland. Her books were set in Ireland.
Here is what she said in an interview:
“There is something absolutely mystical about the Irish countryside, and I knew that if there was one place on earth where my Aminpour sisters could find hope and a fresh start, it would be amongst the heather and clover fields of Eire. The landscape is integral to the renewal theme that runs throughout the book.”
“There is a particular permissiveness to the Irish culture as well, one that is not entirely apparent to the casual observer. Irish people have a tendency to initially back away from new people and encounters, but once they let their guard down, they will defend you to the end. Perfect challenge to the Babylon Cafe!”
She does display a good understanding and appreciation of Irish culture. This shows itself in her debut novel Pomegranate Soup. What did she really think about Irish culture and mythology? Did she see any parallels between Persian and Celtic cultures?
Similarities in the culture of storytelling, in the historical struggle for survivor, and some deep collective sadness.
Where do you think the story of those three sisters in the novel come from? They are very tangible characters like they were part of her or extension of her own personality or the people she knew.
All coming from her experience of Iranians gathering together, making food, their show off about their cooking (dastpokht), women gossiping and so on. She had observed Iranian family and friends in exile and the way they tried hard to win heart and soul of people among whom they lived, or of customers upon whom they relied for their earnings. Marsha used people around herself, and those of the family and friends of whom she had vivid memories. I can identify many of her characters, especially her own self.
In her writing Marsha comes across as a lover of food, humor and spirituality. Especially when it comes to Persian food she writes like a professional chef, someone who is actually trying to promote the recipes. Did she love food in her own life? How was her own cooking?
She loved to cook, and she relished good food. For the purpose of the Pomegranate Soup, she developed her knowledge and skills by following written recipes from different sources, cooking a dish for several times, and then make her own recipe.
Did Marsha ever identify herself as a feminist?
Marsha never identified herself as a feminist, but as a brave woman. She was brought up as an independent individual and I do not think she ever needed to defend herself, gender-wise, against men.
I believe the book Pomegranate Soup will be made into a feature film. Could you give us an update on that? Who’s going to be directing it and who wrote the screenplay for it?
Catalyst Global Media will produce the film. Kirsten Sheridan will do the adaptation and direct it. At this stage there are no more details only that it is anticipated to go into production sometimes next year.
Marsha Mehran passed away April 2014 in Lecanvey, Co Mayo, Ireland. She was 37.
Books by Marsha Mehran
Pomegranate Soup, 2005.
Rosewater and Soda Bread, 2008.
The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty, Australian edition, released in October 2014.
The Saturday Night School of Beauty, American and British edition, in September 2015