Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani; published 2013 by Atria Books
Genre: Literary fiction
Review in a word: Powerful
Opening line: “Azar sat on the corrugated iron floor of a van, huddled against the wall.”
This book doesn’t necessarily have a central plot. It is a collection of stories about three generations of people who were part of the revolution in Iran in the 1980s. All of the characters are loosely related, and each character’s story explains how that person was affected by the revolution.
The author’s own story bookends this collection. She starts with Azar giving birth to a daughter while in prison for her political beliefs, which is the story of Delijani’s birth. The book ends when Azar’s daughter, Neda, is grown and has moved to Italy and fallen in love with another Iranian immigrant, Reza. Though many wonderful stories are in between these, Delijani wraps up the narrative beautifully with Neda, whose mother was a political prisoner, and Reza, whose father helped found the Iranian Guards that imprisoned Neda’s mother.
The story brings together one of the central themes throughout the book: that the sins of the fathers cannot (or should not) be held against their sons and daughters.
I thought the stories were lovely and lyrical—like a song in a minor key—but I was frustrated by the slower pace and the sometimes far jump between characters’ relations and the distance in time. It was difficult at times to understand exactly how two narrators were related, so even though each story was powerful and sad, I feel like I missed out on deeper connections that were not obvious. The best part was the opening; the account of Azar giving birth in the prison is both harrowing and inspiring.
All in all, I appreciated reading this book for the insight it gave me into Iran’s history and for Delijani’s talented writing.
“She was given the wrong bag; the wrong shirt; the wrong toothbrush; the wrong pajamas. …She knew because she felt empty as a grave when she opened the bag. There was a hole in her. That was what death in a wrong bag could do to you. Dig a hole as big as your fist in your chest. A hole that would leave you numb for the rest of your life.” (184)
“They could not forget even if they wished to for the sake of the children, for the future. It conditioned every step of their lives and every decision. It was always right there behind their eyelids. All they had to do was close their eyes to see it, to relive it. All they had to do was speak about it once, a question, an innocent comment over dinner, for her mother to grapple with nightmares all night long, for her father to smoke cigarette after cigarette in the backyard, swaddled against the cold of late hours. And so they knew: the future was marred long ago. And so were the children.” (251)
Yes. If you don’t mind a sad read and admire the stories of the brave men and women during wartimes, you will like this book.