Atria Books|June 18, 2013 | Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-4767-0909-3
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 with 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.
Azar was blindfolded sitting on the corrugated iron floor of a van. The movement of the van through the wild traffic was thrashing her from one side to the other. Being nine months pregnant, having contractions, and about to give birth, this was not an ideal situation for her to be in. Azar was dripping with sweat from the high heat and the chador she was wearing, even the blindfold over her eyes was damp with sweat.
From her place in the back of the van she thought about the people in the prison with her and how at night you could hear the howl and screams of pain, yet you could do nothing to help, only listen to another soul being tortured. A bump in the road brought her back out of her daydream and she could hear Brother and Sister in the front of the van talking and laughing about something. She could not hear their words clearly, she could only hear chatter. Azar tried to keep out the voices inside the van by concentrating on the hum of the city outside – Tehran, “her beloved city, which she had neither seen nor heard for months. She wondered how the city could have changed with the war with Iraq dragging on into its third year.”
Azar tried to sit up straighter the jostling of the van and the fabric of the chador was making her slide around on the iron floor. She tried to tighten her grasp on the railing as she was determined to keep the baby inside until they reached the hospital. Just then she felt a sudden gush between her legs and held her breath as the uncontrollable trickle ran down her thigh. Panic swept through her as she touched the pants carefully with the tips of her fingers. She was frightened because she wasn’t sure what would happen next or how quickly a baby even came after the mother’s water broke, or if it was dangerous.
The van stopped, the doors opened, she was handcuffed, then ordered to get out. Azar found she could barely stand but once the blindfold was taken off she was relieved to see they had at last reached the prison hospital. After being forced to climb a few sets of stairs, the doctor told Sister they could not keep Azar there as she was not a part of that prison, and were told to take her somewhere else. Azar was from Evin prison. Descending the stairs and back outside, she was once again blindfolded and placed back into the van.
A bit later the van stopped again and Azar was led, blindfolded into a building. She was told to sit down on a wooden chair. Shortly she heard the unmistakable sound of someone approaching and she knew who it was. What better time to interrogate her again when she was in such dire pain and anguish. How cruel!! The questions came at her one after the other and she knew every single answer must match ‘exactly’ to those she’d given in every previous interrogation, not one tiny shred should differ. “What is your husband’s name? What party do you belong to? Where were the meetings?” and on the questions went until Azar was almost passed out from pain and the man finally left. Azar got up and followed Sister’s voice down a corridor flanked by a nurse. She could barely keep their pace. Finally they stopped and removed her blindfold and handcuffs and Azar climbed up onto a narrow bed in a roomful of nurses and doctors. “Azar refused to acknowledge Sister’s presence there, wished to forget it completely. Not only Sister but everything Sister’s presence meant: Azar’s captivity, her solitude, her fear, giving birth in prison.”
Azar thought back to happier times when she taught children in schools outside the city of Tehran. Their eyes were full of admiration, of deference verging on fear of the city girl who opened and closed books so easily, who spoke in perfect Farsi, who looked out of place in her city clothes in the classroom with its clay walls that constituted the entire school.
Azar’s heart ached at the thought of those days, when she worked for a new country, a better and more just country. How happy she had been, taking the bus back to Tehran in the evening. She could not wait to arrive home, knowing her husband, Ismael would be expecting her in their tiny apartment. There would be the perfume of steamed rice filling in her nostrils as she entered the flat, and Ismael would come to her, pull her into his arms, and say, “May you never get tired.” She would make tea, and while they drank it together, sitting by the narrow window that faced the trees of the courtyard engulfed in the night, he would tell her of Karl Marx and she read poems to him.
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. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and read it one sitting, I just couldn’t put it down. For a debut novel, it was spellbinding.