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Children of the Jacaranda Tree: A Novel

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  • Posted September 15, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delihani is a book that

    Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delihani is a book that focuses on the Iranian Revolution- more specifically the years between 1983 and 2011, and the fall of the Shah, as well as the chaos that followed.

    First Paragraph:

    “Azar sat on the corrugated iron floor of a van, huddled against the wall. The undulating street made the car sway from side to side, swinging her this way and that. With her free hand, she clasped on to something that felt like a railing. The other hand lay on her hard, bulging belly, which contracted and strained, making her breathing choppy, irregular. A heat wave of pain spouted from somewhere in her backbone and burst through her body. Azar gasped, seizing the chador wrapped around her, gripping so hard that her knuckles turned white. With every turn, she was thrashed against the walls. With every bump and pothole, her body was sent flying toward the ceiling, the child in her belly rigid, cringing. The blindfold over her eyes was damp with sweat.”


    Children of the Jacaranda Tree is less of a plot based book and more a collection of intertwining, related stories. They all share the same general plot and are all part of the overall story, but the way the book is set up makes them seem more individual and personal, though this book is not a collection of short stories- as may have been implied.

    Each chapter begins or continues a person or group of people’s stories. So every time a new chapter begins, a new story or a continued story is told. Within each chapter the POV switches constantly too, but it’s done pretty seamlessly (for the most part), so that it never becomes distracting or confusing. Throughout the book we hear the stories of Azar (who is a heavily pregnant woman being held in Evin Prison in Tehran, and is going into labour), Leila and Maman Zinat (a daughter and mother (respectively), looking after their relations’ children while they do their time in prison. Throughout the years, the children include Omid, Sara, Forugh, Dante, and many others who need help. All young children waiting for their parents to return- some of whom have never known their mother or father. The focus of the story varies depending on the chapter, but each character gets their own arc. Another chapter focuses on Amir- in Komiteh Moshtarak Detention Centre, Evin Prison in Tehran. He has been imprisoned for 45 days and is constantly blindfolded. His wife, Maryam, was pregnant when he was arrested. The story also follows from Maryam’s POV- ranging from the year Amir was taken (1983) to her current life in 2009. Another focuses on Donya- whose mother was imprisoned long ago, finally released and then emigrated with her daughter to America- where Donya’s been for the past 15 years. The final chapter (and alternate POV) is Neda’s story (or part of it), and is the story most similar to the author’s own (at least partly). Both were born in Tehran’s Evin Prison in 1983. 

    However, the author was raised by her mother in California. Her father was imprisoned for at least seven years after she was born. She and her husband now live in Turin, Italy- another important place in this book. In fact, the entire story takes place in either Tehran or Turin.

    Azar’s story is perhaps the shortest, but also the first- so one of the most impactful. Her story sets the tone for the rest of the book. When we find her she has been prison for a few months, after she and her husband, Ismael, were arrested for being political activists- protesting against the regime in 1983. Iran has been at war with Iraq for three years, and Saddam was Iraq’s leader at the time.

    Her story tells of her experience with labour, childbirth and having a baby in prison. Her child brings new hope to her and the women who share her cell. Azar has no idea what is going on outside her tiny cell, or what happened to her husband, but for now she has a little piece of both of them in her hands. 

    In her cell there are many other women- including Parisa (who is also pregnant and has a son waiting for her outside the prison)- Omid.

    Time skips are frequent in this book, and each chapter can go either forward or backward between any year from 1983 to 2011, though usually in substantial increments. The story spans three generations of people, who are all interconnected in one way or another, sometimes in multiple ways. The chapters alternate between years and characters- with the same time period retold multiple times from different POVs. Between 1988 there is a sudden time skip to 2008, and the next generation of characters, which mostly fills in some gaps left from the previous generation’s characters, and also sets up the generation to follow.

    There are a few motifs played through the book. The jacaranda tree is an obvious one, but other motifs include butterflies and pregnancy (obviously symbolic of new life while the old is taken and/or abused). Another strong theme of this book is the power of memories. That decades can pass, but the memories can still feel fresh in the mind- still have the strength to cripple you or lift you.

    This book is more a story of relationships, which can make for a slow-paced book as there is little plot. It is more a story about how much a person can impact another’s life. How relationships are born through necessity or by chance, and how they last or change- regardless of whether the person is with you any longer.

    In its own words, this quote from the book perfectly describes what the story consists of and is about:

    “the mysterious ripples of love and pain, of breaking and blossoming, of past and future.”

    There are always two sides to everything. There cannot be love without hate, or a future without a past. There are many different kinds of relationship and this book explores a lot of them. What must it be like, to be a child who is more comfortable with other women than your own mother- for her to be a stranger to you. Childrens’ relationships to one another, and how they change as they age, along with whether they grow up together or not are explored frequently in this book, along with the relationship to the women who raised them compared to those who birthed them.


    The war and regime are more of a necessary plot point to place the characters in the needed conditions, as well as to immerse the reader in the truth of events. These characters and situations may be fictional, but they most likely happened. There were thousands of people killed or hurt during their protests of the regime- the regime that was meant to free them all from the the fallen Shah. In 1988, 4000-5000 young men and women were executed in the months of July and August. The committee interviewed all political prisoners and ordered executions of those deemed “unrepentant.” Twenty years later, and the next generation is still suffering the country’s rule, but in different ways, and the opposing side are more open- killing on the streets instead of behind the walls of a prison.

    During the chaos surrounding the demonstrations and loss of the country’s leader, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein decided to take advantage of the disruption that followed the wake of the Revolution by invading territories previously taken by Iraq during the Shah’s rule. In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting the Iran-Iraq War, which the Iranian Regime used as an excuse to execute many of it’s own people. By 1982, the Iranian forces had managed to drive out the Iraqi army. In 1987, Iran tried to close the Persian Gulf- thereby stopping oil flow to Iraq, after almost seven years at war with the country. In 1988, Khomeini accepted a truce created by the UN, and the war ended. Iranian casualties were estimated to be between 500,000 and 1,000,000. Following the war, President Rafsanjani con

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2013

    The book is very good, but one cannot say it was an enjoyable or

    The book is very good, but one cannot say it was an enjoyable or entertaining read. The story is gripping and poignant and the terror cuts through all the beautiful prose. It was a difficult book to put down.

    I'm certainly looking forward to future Delijani novels.

    I received this book compliments of Goodreads First Read for my honest review.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    All of us need to read this.

    Then we found fault with the U.S.A we to read this book. Things can be a lot like it is in this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2013


    Stunning excursion into recent history in the Middle East. Beautiful descriptive writing, sometimes gets lost in too many unnecessary details. The storyline can be confusing as it jumps around in time which makes it difficult to keep up with the characters with their unfamiliar names. I enjoyed the book but found myself skipping sections that were irrelevant to the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Fascinating read and great story telling!

    Fascinating read and great story telling!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A novel based on true life experiences. I have procrastinated

    A novel based on true life experiences.

    I have procrastinated in writing this review because I really wanted to give the book five stars. Unfortunately, I struggled to keep all the characters and their relationships in my head and the time line of the narrative tended to be irratic. In spite of this, the images left in my mind paint a powerful picture of the hardships and sacrifices made by three generations of Iranians from 1983 to the present day. It is a particularly relevant book, given the recent events of the Arab Spring.

    The central character is Neda, who represents the life of the author. Both were born in the infamous Evin prison, of mothers who had been imprisoned for their activities during the time of the Iranian Revolution. Within a few months of her birth, Nada is removed from her mother and taken to live with her grandmother.

    The novel cleverly illustrates many differing outlooks and positions, from the grandparents who cared for the children of the imprisoned, through those in the prisons, to the children themselves.
    No one knew how long they would be detained, if their loved ones were still alive, or whether anyone would ultimately be released. Many prisoners were randomly slaughtered and while some were released, many were never seen again.
    This then, raised the quesion as to what to tell their children, whether to admit the awful truth or protect them with fabrications. As these children became adults they had to reconcile their situations and live their lives.
    They are now in their late twenties and living through another revolution, dubbed the Arab Spring.
    At each stage, many people decided to leave Iran for other, more peaceful, parts of the world and so, a whole new generation of diplaced Iranians has evolved.

    This book has a profound message of survival. It reveals the struggle that has been going on in Iran over the last thirty years and which is largely unknown by the majority of The West.
    I'd recommend it, but suggest that you take notes while reading, to help keep characters and dates in their correct places.

    Also read:
    Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (4 *)
    My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari (3*)
    The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer (5*)

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  • Posted July 13, 2013

    Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani begins with the

    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. 
         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. 
         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. 

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  • Posted June 26, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    On the eve of the 2013 presidential election in Iran, Shahar Del

    On the eve of the 2013 presidential election in Iran, Shahar Delijani invites us to look at what past elections have meant for three generations rooted in post-revolutionary Tehran from 1983 to present day. This is a novel that reads like a memoir, tracing the experiences and thoughts of Iran’s disenfranchised and dissident population. If ever you wondered what it must have been like to be a part of Arab Spring as it played out in massive demonstrations in Tehran, this is one woman’s attempt to share that experience and its roots in Iranian society and its diaspora.

    From the opening scenes of a prison birth to the later reminiscences of a woman receiving someone else’s clothes from prison officials after the death of her husband while in custody, this is inflammatory stuff, heart-breaking and heart-hardening stuff. The effect of events like these on families and personalities is charted and surmised, each generation seemingly adding to the ranks of the disaffected. By this count the opposition to the government in Tehran will never go away but instead grows daily. Conversations among the psychologically traumatized characters in this novel echo what was heard in Beijing after the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. This kind of disaffection isn’t going to evaporate without boiling first.

    I am not as familiar with customs in the Middle East as I am with those in Asia, so I find the fictional personal interactions recorded here fascinating, supposing that this records faithfully a middling wealthy and cosmopolitan slice of Iranian society. And, though it doesn’t necessarily make good novelistic technique, I enjoyed reading of young male/female relationships. I am struck with the conservatism on one hand and the liberality on the other.

    This is Delijani’s debut novel, and while she still has room to grow as a novelist, this book illustrates storytelling. I don’t think the two things are necessarily the same. I never felt involved in this story, but watched from a distance the interactions between characters. Surely there are overlaps in customs, feelings, and intentions, especially among Iranians displaced to the West, and yet I felt a great distance. This could be age (hers or mine or the characters'), or it could be one of the stages of cultural familiarity: Geert Hofstede, Dutch guru on the dimensions of culture, once posited that people go through stages of recognition when encountering another culture. At first, without our own cultural markers, we feel disoriented and distant, as though “we are different from them.” Gradually, as we become more familiar and discover that these are humans, too, we begin to think “we are all the same.” As familiarity grows into deep knowledge, we move back to “we really are different.” I think I am still at Stage 1 with Iran.

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  • Posted June 18, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This is not a pleasurable read but a vitally necessary story. I

    This is not a pleasurable read but a vitally necessary story. It’s fiction but the reality is so vivid, the tales it tells just have to be true. A constant state of increasing tension is riddled with a surrealistic ambience for Ashar, our first character, who is pregnant in jail and gives birth to her daughter Neda there. But Ashar will not be allowed to keep her daughter after she is done nursing her for three months. Add to that Ashar knows the baby will be taken from her but never knows when and so lives with the agony and fear for far too long, day after day after day!
    Omid is a young boy who stares in shock as his parents are arrested and taken away while Omid is eating his breakfast yogurt. Too young to understand the horrific wrong done as a result of this brutal separation, he learns at a very young age to think, speak and act in a very careful way, knowing all too well that one’s happiest moments can be whisked away in a flash.
    Sheida learns very quickly that her father was executed under the rule of Sadaam Hussein, but she didn’t find it out from her mother. No, her mother was so traumatized by the father’s arrest, she couldn’t bear to tell her daughter about his death. So the gap between the two grows until the day of truth arrives, and Sheida doesn’t get the horror of it for her mother. What did he do wrong? What was the penalty and why?
    No clear revelations fill these pages and pages and pages of torturing questions in and out of jail. A constant juxtaposition of life and death keep the reader on guard with the same nervousness these people have endured for years and years. Many of these characters will escape this beloved but fearsome place, with the heart remaining behind and feeling guilty about not helping others in dire need. Independence and emigration come with such a high cost to these decent human beings forced to endure the worst torture and ill treatment mankind can provide. This is a notable work of historical fiction that should be read by all, indeed perhaps even be part of the educational curricula for high school classes. The reader can well imagine this account in movie form as well. Kudos to you, Sahir Delijani, for sharing this momentous, dignified work of Iranian history in fictional form.

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    Posted February 15, 2014

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    Posted August 28, 2013

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    Posted December 17, 2013

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