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Children of the Jacaranda Tree: A Novel Hardcover – June 18, 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Author One On One:

Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena interviews Sahar Delijani, author of Children of the Jacaranda Tree.

Last autumn I met Sahar at a book festival in Toronto, where we had several events scheduled together. I was lucky enough to hear, both on stage and off, the remarkable story of her life and her first novel. So naturally I jumped at the opportunity to chat with her again, via email, about Children of the Jacaranda Tree, which is newly out in paperback.

AM: How did you come to Children of the Jacaranda Tree, and how did the book change over the course of writing it?

SD: I came to Children of the Jacaranda Tree through objects more than anything, more than stories I had heard, and more than even memories that in one way or another shaped the novel. I was inspired by objects that were left behind, objects that each in its own way was a testimony to life in post-revolutionary Iran about which I wanted to tell stories. Everything started with a bracelet made of date stones. It was upon seeing me for the first time in Evin Prison in 1983 that my father, a political activist fighting against the Islamic Regime, thought of making it for me. I wanted to tell the story behind this bracelet. Then there was a photo of my brother, my cousin and me, taken while our parents were in jail and our grandparents were raising us. My cousin and I are one year old and my brother is three. Once again I wanted to tell the story behind this photo. I wanted to tell the story of how these three children ended up in this photo, of the tides of life that brought them there together in that moment of history. It is only then that the idea of writing about my own birth in prison occurred to me. I realized it was with this birth that everything begins. That birth alone testified to the violent aftermath of a revolution that had promised justice and freedom and instead its consequences were of repression, prison and death. The birth in Evin Prison coincided with the birth of a dictatorship in Iran.

I would say the only thing that changed through the course of writing this book was the discovery of my own obsession with these themes and with giving an interpretation to the childhood of an entire generation of post-revolutionary Iranians shaped by revolution, repression and resistance and the impact it has had on this generation’s sense of integrity, identity and fight for the future.

AM: Your own story is incredible in its own right. Like your character Neda, you too were born in Evin Prison in Tehran. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is, of course, fiction, but I was curious how your own experiences shaped Neda’s character?

SD: Neda incarnated the rage I felt toward all that had happened to my parents and family but had never truly considered, or maybe, I thought I was above this sort of almost raw, untamed anger. Writing Neda made me see deeper within me than I had ever dared to look.

AM: Despite its presence in the news, Iran is a country that most Americans don’t know much about. How did you navigate the need to provide historical context without bogging down the narrative?

SD: This was quite a challenging issue. I wanted to write a novel on post-revolutionary Iran without turning it into a handbook on post-revolutionary Iran, and at the same time keeping in mind that most of my readers are perhaps not very familiar with life in Iran. I toyed around with many different ideas of how to maneuver my way between the two. In the end, one way was to give very simple and direct date and place information as the title of each chapter. I wanted the readers to know immediately where they were and the period in which each chapter was taking place. I also included a few paragraphs in the form of a newspaper article about the main theme of the novel: the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners in Iran, in one of the chapters where I felt it was natural to include. But at the end of the day, I was interested in telling the stories behind the great History, and I hope I was able to do that with my novel.

AM: You left Iran when you were 12, grew up in California, and now live in Italy. Did geographical distance from the subject of the novel allow for a degree of freedom while writing, or did it create its own challenges?

SD: Both. The distance gave me the freedom to imagine, re-invent and write about the people who were so intimate and personal to me that otherwise they could have become caricaturized. The distance helped me see beyond who they are to me and develop them as fictional characters. It did have its challenges, especially when I had to give descriptions of places in Tehran, for instance, that I hadn’t seen for a long time. But I guess it is there that imagination helps!

AM: What are some contemporary Iranian writers you wish were more widely read in America?

SD: The Iranian modern poets, such as, Ahmad Shamlou and Forugh Farrokhzad.

AM:What are you working on now?

SD: I am working on my second novel. It is set in Iran in the 1980s. In a way, it is going to be a second part to Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Whereas Children of the Jacaranda Tree focused on the experience in prison and the impact it had on the families and children of these political prisoners, the second novel will be more concentrated on life immediately after prison, asking what is it like? How does one seek to bring a degree of normality into one’s life? Is it possible to live a normal life after prison? These are the themes that interest me and I would like to explore in my second novel.

From Booklist

Set against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq War, Delijanis story tells of an interrelated group of Iranians, all of whom are negatively affected by the country’s fundamentalist regime. Azar gives birth in prison only to have her daughter cruelly taken away months later. Leila sacrifices her life as an independent factory worker to raise the children of her two imprisoned sisters. Amir, an imprisoned father, constructs a bracelet for his young daughter out of discarded date pits. We revisit some of the same characters in the present day as they grapple with the excitement, hope, and turmoil following the 2009 Iranian presidential election. At the center of it all is the jacaranda tree, whose physical presence represents the beauty of the land and inner strength of its people, while its pungent and inescapable smell signifies the regime’s suffocating control of its citizens. Filled with compelling characters and poetic language, this beautiful and poignant novel highlights the unbreakable bond between parent and child, and a people’s passionate dedication to their homeland, despite its many flaws. --Kerri Price

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (June 18, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476709092
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476709093
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,171,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Twice a Pushcart Prize nominee, Sahar Delijani was born in Tehran, Iran in 1983. At the age of 12, she moved to Northern California with her family and graduated in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Translated into 28 languages and published in more than 75 countries, Children of the Jacaranda Tree has been inspired by her family's experience as political prisoners in post-revolutionary Iran. Delijani now lives in Turin, Italy. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a novel, a work of fiction, but it is based on the experiences of its author, Sahar Delijani, and her parents, who were imprisoned in Evin, a prison in Tehran, Iran, in the 80s. Thankfully, all survived the experience. Ms. Delijani was born in Evin in 1983, and, from what I could gather, spent a few months as an infant in the prison with her mother. Ms. Delijani has no memory of Evin, and, according to a Q&A on her website, her description of the prison has originated from her parents, who, like most ex-prisoners, were too traumatized to write their own experiences. A few books have been published about Evin, but all the ones I had read, except my own, before Children of the Jacaranda Tree had been memoirs written in Farsi and published in small print runs in Europe.

In the first chapter of the book, we follow Azar, a pregnant Evin inmate, who seems to be in her mid to late 20s and is in labour. It is 1983. She is a married woman and was arrested early in her pregnancy together with her husband, both members of a Marxist, anti-regime organization. In appalling conditions, two prison guards, one male and one female, drive Azar to a hospital in Tehran, where she delivers a healthy baby girl. On page 32, we finally enter Evin with Azar and her baby.

The book lost me in the first chapter. The picture of Evin that Ms. Delijani paints is too vague for someone like me who has spent time there and knows it well; the narrative lacks essential information and has too many empty, unexplored spaces. For example, when Ms. Delijani tells us about Azar's return from the hospital to her cell in the public cellblock, she writes: "The women [prisoners] had carried their excitement around with them all day. They were restless, barely able to stay put [...
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As a lover for fiction from faraway lands, I noticed and kept track of this title way before publication date. I love to read about how war and history could affect all of us, no matter where we are, where we were from. This is the debut novel of Sahar Delijani. She drew examples for this story from her parents and other family members, who were actually imprisoned in the Evin Prison in the 1980s. Ms. Delijani was born there. One could safely say that this book is part memoir, part fiction.

The book opened with a heart-gripping chapter. A pregnant woman prisoner, Azar, was being taking to a local hospital fanned by "sisters" and "brothers," or male and female prison guards from Evin. She was blindfolded and suffering from humility, harsh treatment and contraction pain. When she finally was allowed to sit down somewhere, she thought a doctor was going to see her. Yet an interrogator came in, with paper and pen, hoping to break her during her time of weakness and pain, with her baby about to slip out... This was the best chapter of the book.

Not much is known about the Evin Prison, since most prisoners were blindfolded while being transported within; it has the most efficient interrogative methods that could break any human, and it was crowded. It was built to fit 350 prisoners but holds up to 15,000 all the time. It's also called Evin University, due to the number of intellectuals who were imprisoned, tortured or killed there. It's the prison not only for actual criminals, but also intellectuals, students, activists, Christians, journalists... In other words, any one who's believed to oppose the Iranian government. The prison is right at the border of the city of Tehran, and its cold tall walls could be visible from many homes.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel opens with a woman being transported from the Evin Prison to give birth to her daughter. Mother and daughter are returned to the prison, but soon enough the baby is taken away and sent to her grandparents. Already in the opening pages the hypocrisy of the revolutionary "brothers" and "sisters" is made clear.

The communal prison scene early in this novel reminded me of a similar scene near the end of Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns". (Set in Afghanistan, not Iran, of course.) But that scene was about death, and this one about life. "Children of the Jacaranda Tree" continues through a series of vignettes about individuals and families oppressed by the theocratic government and its thugs. The oppression eventually stretches over two generations. But they also endure and retain their love of Iran--the Iran they once knew and hope to know again.

There is also the tension between the diaspora and those who stay, as well as the drift between them.

While the individual stories are evocative and touching, the thread stringing them together is rather thin. This book is more a series of related stories than a novel with a compelling plot. In that failing it is reminiscent of Hosseini's latest, "And the Mountains Echoed". But where Hosseini's writing is scintillating, Delijani's is merely very good.

I'm giving this book a somewhat reluctant four stars because the stories are well written and it does provide a touching insight into life in revolutionary Iran. But a tighter plot would have made for a better novel.

This is a book for someone who wants to understand and feel the suffering in Iran. While the quality of the writing makes it read quickly, it is not light nor fun reading. If you are looking for that look elsewhere; this is a book of tragedy and suffering, although also of survival and hope.

The publisher provided me a copy for review.
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