Saturday, July 13, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

     "It was as if they were able to hurt not only us, our generation, but also the one coming after. And that was just too much to bear."

     Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani begins with the birth of Neda, whose mother is a political prisoner in post-revolutionary Iran in 1983, during the Iran-Iraq War, and follows the lives of three generations of Iranians between 1983 and 2011. All three generations are damaged by the leadership of the Islamist government; the first, who watches as their children are beaten, imprisoned, and executed. The second, who worked hard during a revolution with dreams of a better country, who are cast aside, labeled enemies of the State, enemies of Islam, beaten, imprisoned, and too often executed.  And the third, the children, left abandoned and sometimes orphaned, as their parents are arrested or killed. 
     It is the third generation that are the children of the jacaranda tree.  They were the ones who lived for years in the sad but peaceful and loving home of Maman Zinat. She cared for her grandchildren and others during the long, indeterminate prison sentences; offered shelter security in her home, adorned and seemingly protected by the beautiful jacaranda tree in the courtyard.  
     The book frequently jumps from the early 1980's to the first decade of the 21st Century as it follows the lives of its characters. It isn't exactly fast paced, but what it lacks in thrills is made up for tenfold in Ms. Delijani's beautiful, descriptive prose. There is an expected sadness in the story, sometimes highlighted by characters with minor roles. Near the beginning of the book, an Aunt takes the displaced children for a photograph for their imprisoned parents. The photographer sets the mood of the seen, and the era:
"As you see, Leila Khanoom, I'm not very busy these days. It seems like no one wants to take pictures in wartime. Who knows? Maybe they prefer not to keep records of themselves; maybe they want to forget. Or maybe the're afraid of remembering it later. If that's the case, it means they're already looking ahead..."
Sahar Delijani
     But despite the sadness, the war, the desire not to remember, there is also a hope that lies just under the surface, and it is ever present. 
     The last chapter is set in Turin, Italy. Neda is an adult dating Reza, an Iranian political refugee because of his activity during the protests of the 2009 elections. At one point, his relationship with Neda is strained because of what she sees as his lack of acknowledgement of her parents involvement in reshaping Iran, their suffering and hardships, and by extension, hers. She learns that his father was a member of the Revolutionary Guard, the people responsible for the suffering of her parents and so many others in Iran. Despite Reza's own political exile, his explaining that his father left the Guard because he disagreed with their actions, and that his father was among the demonstrators badly beaten during the 2009 protests, she struggles to accept Reza knowing what his father had likely been involved in, but knowing that to make any progress means letting go of parts of the past. .  
"In his eyes, she sees the same angst that she once saw in her parents' eyes, and she hopes she has the power to wipe it away. And that is why she can't let him go, no matter where and which side he has come from. She gets up. If his father was the past, if her parents were the past, Neda and Reza must be the future; they are the future. 
     My only criticism of Children of the Jacaranda Tree is that it is choppy. It jumped around from the 1980's to 2009-2011; from Tehran to Turin. There were many compelling, well developed characters, but it was difficult to keep track of who was who and how were they related to each other. But that might have been intentional; a small, symbolic way to demonstrate the chaos and uncertainty that is a way of life for the people of Iran. 
     This is the first novel by Sahar Delijani, herself born in Evin prison in Tehran while her parents were political prisoners. After living in Iran for 12 years, she immigrated to the United States, and now lives with her husband in Turin, Italy. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is fiction, but has obvious similarities to Ms. Delijani's life. I hope she, her family, and the millions of people in Iran that are children of the jacaranda tree are able to experience the hopes that are ever present in Ms. Delijani's book. 

Delijani, Sahar. Children of the Jacaranda Tree, Atria Books, 2013. 
  • ISBN-13: 9781476709093

Creative Commons License