Children of the Jacaranda Tree
Sahar Delijani, 2013
Neda is born in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for a few months before the arms of a guard appear at the cell door one day and, simply, take her away.
In another part of the city, three-year-old Omid witnesses the arrests of his political activist parents from his perch at their kitchen table, yogurt dripping from his fingertips. More than twenty years after the violent, bloody purge that took place inside Tehran’s prisons, Sheida learns that her father was one of those executed, that the silent void firmly planted between her and her mother all these years was not just the sad loss that comes with death, but the anguish and the horror of murder.
These are the Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Set in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011, this stunning debut novel follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers, some related by blood, others brought together by the tide of history that washes over their lives. Finally, years later, it is the next generation that is left with the burden of the past and their country’s tenuous future as a new wave of protest and political strife begins.
Children of the Jacaranda Tree is an evocative portrait of three generations of men and women inspired by love and poetry, burning with idealism, chasing dreams of justice and freedom. Written in Sahar Delijani’s spellbinding prose, capturing the intimate side of revolution in a country where the weight of history is all around, it is a moving tribute to anyone who has ever answered its call. (From the publisher.)
• Where—Tehren, Iran
• Raised—California, USA
• Education—B.A., University of California, Berkeley
• Currently—lives in Turin, Italy
Sahar Delijani was born in Tehran's Evin Prison in 1983 and grew up in California, where she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been published in a broad spectrum of literary journals and publications, including The Battered Suitcase, Tryst, Slice Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Perigee, Border Hopping, Berkeley Poetry Review, and Sangam Review. She was nominated for the 2010 and 2011 Pushcart Prize and was for a time a regular contributor to Iran-Emrooz (Iran of Today) Political and Cultural Journal. She makes her home with her husband in Turin, Italy. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is her first novel.
Born in 1983 in an Iranian prison, Delijani delivers a fictionalized account of her harrowing origins.... After this strong opening in Evin Prison, Delijani turns from the powerful immediacy of Azar’s fight to the struggle outside, touching on the bleak sadness of four prisoners’ families over three repetitious sections.... A contrivance connects her to the Arab Spring through the son of a Revolutionary Guard, leaving it unclear if she’ll be able to fully transcend her bloody history.
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.
Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a beautifully rendered tale that reads almost like a collection of connected short stories, with characters’ perspectives and histories being unveiled as they intersect with one another.
Iran-born Delijani pens a horrifying picture of life in her home country in this sad yet compelling first novel.... Delijani is exceptionally talented as a writer, and the subject matter is both compelling and timely, however some of her imagery is jarring and seems out of place, and the relentlessly depressing storyline may make some readers uncomfortable. Delijani falls back on her family's personal experience to write this searing and somber slice-of-life novel, centered around children whose parents were singled out for persecution by the Iranian government, and scores a win with her grittiness and uncompromising realism.
1. Delijani’s gorgeous novel is based, at least partially, on the author’s own experiences—she was born in Iran in 1983—and the stories of her family and friends who lived through the Revolution. How are we to read her interpretation of the events that she describes? Can an author ever separate her own story from the fictional world she creates? Should she? How does our own history and upbringing affect how we as readers interpret what we read?
2. The capital city Tehran is the backdrop for much of the action in this story, and is in some ways almost a character on its own. And yet some characters are drawn to the city, against all odds and in the face of all logic, while others are lured away from it, for education, for safety, for reasons they can’t explain. How does proximity to the city affect the decisions different characters make? In what ways does landscape shape who we become?
3. The characters we meet throughout this book often don’t immediately seem to be connected, but it is slowly revealed how intricately intertwined their stories are and how each of their experiences brings them close to each other as if they were a family. In what ways is this like real life? How is it different? How do you think history plays a role in creating bonds between people that otherwise will not have existed?
4. The children born after the Revolution are affected by what happened to their parents, and to their country, in different ways. And yet each, in their own way, wants what Donya wants, to “finish everything their parents left undone.” (p. 223) How do you see each of the characters of the younger generation wrestling with this in different ways? Do you think this is a universal theme? Does every generation essentially fight the same fight? How do you see this in other cultures and other periods in history?
5. “Truth,” Sheida says, when she finds out her mother has lied to her about how her father died, “cannot have so many sides.” (p. 181) Do you agree?
6. “If it’s anything that can easily be articulated in an article, then it’s an insult to put the same thoughts and ideas into the language of poetry,” Omid says. “It sullies its essence, because poetry is there to say what cannot be said.” (p. 220) Do you agree with his sentiments? How does this affect the form this story takes? Why do you think the author chose to write a novel based on her family’s experiences instead of a nonfiction piece? Do you think poetry or a novel can ever communicate a message better than nonfiction?
7. “We all have a tree inside of us,” Ismael has told Azar. “Finding it is just a matter of time.” (p. 36) What do you think this means? How do the characters reflect this? What does the jacaranda tree represent?
8. For each character, in one way or another, there's some hope that accompanies them at the end of their stories. The only character who is left with nothing is Donya. Why do you think this is?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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