CHILDREN OF THE JACARANDA TREE opens in 1983 with the birth of Neda in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Her mother, Azar, will be imprisoned for years due to her association with the revolutionary forces in Iran, and she will be allowed only a few weeks of nursing until the baby is taken away. We move forward to 1987, with Leila taking three small cousins to have a photograph taken to send to their mothers who are in Evin Prison so they can see that her children are growing and healthy. The novel shifts again to the years Amir waits in the detention center in prison. He makes a secret bracelet of date stones for his daughter, Sheida, and his only hope is to see her once again. He is tried twice, each trial only minutes long, before he becomes one of the hundreds of thousands executed in the purges of 1988.
"The sense of continual tension and waiting seems heightened by the beautiful language and descriptions of purple flowers, bright blouses and lustrous black hair. The use of lines of poetry and moments of looking at the green hills alongside the reality of war make these stories all the more poignant."
The families of CHILDREN OF THE JACARANDA TREE are blood relatives, friends, lovers and neighbors, all touched in the post-revolutionary days of Iran. Lives are put on hold, ended or derailed because of the revolution and the fact that the war “continued guzzling up the country, growing fatter, greedier, more ravenous every day.” It would seem there could not be normalcy during these years in Tehran, but author Sahar Delijani shows how the ordinary tasks must prevail against the impossible world of distrusting neighbors, in-the-street interrogations by a young military force that may demand anything of anyone at any time, and unvoiced fears. Dill weed is harvested, shopping for pastries is completed, and doctor appointments are met.
Although the jacaranda tree is important, with its fragrant blossoms and continued beauty in the 20-plus years the novel spans, of equal importance is Evin Prison. Each child and adult has been touched by the menacing power in charge of the prison, and the fortunes of their lives have been unalterably affected.
As the children grow into adults, Delijani shows us again and again that regaining a childhood is impossible; death stories take that away. She shows that there is rarely a time for going back. Choices are made, lovers must leave, and secrets remain. The truths of the book are truths of our own lives. The hope that Delijani offers to us is that the next generation will understand the gifts and sacrifices made for them and go forward.
The sense of continual tension and waiting seems heightened by the beautiful language and descriptions of purple flowers, bright blouses and lustrous black hair. The use of lines of poetry and moments of looking at the green hills alongside the reality of war make these stories all the more poignant.
The novel returns to Neda in 2011 in Turin, Italy, where she now lives. She is retelling the story of her life and wishes her parents had not suffered so much; she wants to help them find hope in their lives of horror and defiance. She knows that the telling of their story and the other children’s stories gives them power and credence. The listener is Reza, also from Tehran, a handsome man whom she found one evening in a restaurant where “Iranian events occur.” He listens and then tells her secrets she does not want to know, but she hears them. She believes that perhaps she will be able to return to Tehran and show him the jacaranda tree.
The small moments --- a woman wiping off her lipstick before being questioned, a man tucking yellow flowers between his lover’s toes --- affirm that being lovely and being loved are what life is about, not a revolution outside. CHILDREN OF THE JACARANDA TREE is worth talking about, passing on to a friend, and re-reading for its beauty.
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on July 11, 2013
Children of the Jacaranda Tree