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Children of the Jacaranda Tree: A Novel
by Sahar Delijani

Published: 2013-06-18
Hardcover : 288 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 4 members
Sold in 70 countries around the world, translated into 25 languages, hailed by Khaled Hosseini, author of And the Mountains Echoed and The Kite Runner, who calls it "a celebration of the human heart’s eternal yearning for freedom." This is Children of the Jacaranda Tree.

Neda is born in ...
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Introduction

Sold in 70 countries around the world, translated into 25 languages, hailed by Khaled Hosseini, author of And the Mountains Echoed and The Kite Runner, who calls it "a celebration of the human heart’s eternal yearning for freedom." This is Children of the Jacaranda Tree.

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.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

1983.

Evin Prison, Tehran

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.

She lifted a hand and wiped the moisture from her eyes. She dared not remove the blindfold, even though there was no one with her in the back of the van. But she knew there was a window behind her. She had felt the glass when she first climbed in. Sister might turn around and see her through this window, or they could stop so abruptly that Azar would not have time to put the blindfold back on.

She didn’t know what would happen to her if they caught her with open eyes, and she did not wish to. At times she tried to convince herself that the fear that had crept inside her, cleaving to her, was not justifiable; no one had ever raised a hand to her, shoved her around, threatened her. She had no reason to be terrified of them, of the Sisters and the Brothers, no tangible reason. But then there were the screams that shook the prison walls, tearing through the empty corridors, waking the prisoners at night, cutting across a conversation as the prisoners divided up their lunch, forcing them all to a tight-jawed, stiff-limbed silence that lasted well through the evening. No one knew where the screams were coming from. No one dared ask. Shrieks of pain they were, this much they knew. For no one could confuse howls of pain with any other kind; they were cries of a body without a self, abandoned, crushed to a shapeless splotch, whose only sign of being was the force with which it could shatter the silence inside the prison walls. And no one knew when their turn would come up, when they would disappear down the corridor and nothing would remain of them but howls. So they lived and waited and followed orders under the looming cloud of a menace that everyone knew could not be eluded forever.

From a tiny opening somewhere above Azar’s head, the muffled din of the city waking up intruded into the car: shutters rolling open, cars honking, children laughing, street vendors haggling. Through the window, she could also hear the intermittent sounds of chatter and laughter coming from the front of the van, though the words were not clear. She could hear only the guffaws of Sister at something one of the Brothers had just finished recounting. 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. Had the flames of war reached Tehran? Were people leaving the city? From the noises outside, it seemed as if everything continued as always, the same chaos, the same din of struggle and survival. She wondered what her parents were doing at this moment. Mother was probably in line at the baker’s; her father was probably getting on his motorcycle and leaving for work. At the thought of them, she felt like something was gripping her throat. She lifted her head, opened her mouth wide, and tried to gulp down the air seeping through the opening.

Her head thrown back, she breathed hard, so hard that her throat burned and she started to cough. She undid the tight knot of the headscarf under her chin and let the chador slide down her head. She held on to the railing, sitting stiffly, trying to bear the swaying and lashing of the car as another burst of pain blazed through her like the fiery end of a bullet. Azar tried to sit up; she bristled at the thought of having to give birth on the iron floor of a van, on these bumpy streets, with the shrill laughter of Sister in her ears. Tightening her grasp on the railing, she took a deep breath and tried to shut herself against the urge of erupting. She was determined to keep the child 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. She pushed her chador aside. Panic swept through her as she touched the pants carefully with the tips of her fingers. She knew that a pregnant woman’s water would break at some point, but not what would happen after that. Did this mean birth was imminent? Was it dangerous? Azar had just started reading books on pregnancy when they came to her door. She was about to reach the chapter on water breaking, contractions, what she should pack in her hospital bag, when they knocked so loudly, as if they wanted to break down the front door of her house. When they dragged her out, her stomach was already beginning to show.

She clenched her jaw as her heart pounded violently. She wished her mother were there so she could explain what was happening. Mother with her deep voice and gentle face. She wished she had something of her mother that she could hold on to, a piece of clothing, her headscarf. It would have helped.

She wished Ismael were there so he could hold her hand and tell her that everything was going to be fine. He would have been frightened, she knew, if he had seen her in these conditions, sick with worry. He would have stared at her with his bright brown eyes as if he wanted to devour her pain, make it his own. There was nothing he hated more than seeing her in pain. The time she fell from the chair that she had climbed in order to pick grapes from the vine tree, he was so shocked, seeing her wriggling on the ground, that he almost cried, gathering her in his arms. I thought you had broken your back, he told her later on. I would die if something ever happened to you. His love made her feel like a mountain, unshakable, immortal. She needed that all-encompassing love, those worried eyes, the way in which, by taking it upon herself to reassure him, to calm him down, she always succeeded in reassuring herself too.

She wished her father were there so he could carry her to his car and drive like a madman to the hospital.

The van came to a stop, and Azar, shaken out of her thoughts, turned around sharply, as if she could see. Although the grumble of the engine had fallen silent, no door opened. Her hands crept up to her headscarf, tightening the knot, sweeping the chador over her head. Sister’s gales of laughter once again burst forth. Soon it became apparent that they were waiting for the Brother to finish telling his story. Azar waited for them, her hands trembling on the slippery edge of her chador.

After a few moments, she heard doors open and swing shut. Someone fiddled with the lock on the back of the van. Clinging to the railing, Azar lugged her body forward. She was at the edge of the car when the doors were drawn open.

“Get out,” Sister said as she fastened the handcuffs around Azar’s wrists.

Azar found that she could barely stand. She lumbered alongside Sister, engulfed in the darkness enveloping her eyes, her wet pants sticking to her thighs. Soon she felt a pair of hands behind her head, untying the blindfold, and saw that she was standing in a dimly lit corridor, flanked by long rows of closed doors. A few plastic chairs were set against the walls, which were covered with posters of children’s happy faces and a framed photo of a nurse with a finger against her lips to indicate silence. Azar felt a great lifting in her heart as she realized they had at last reached the prison hospital.

A few young nurses hurried past. Azar watched as they disappeared down the corridor. There was something beautiful about having her eyes out in the open, her gaze hopping hurriedly, freely, from the green walls to the doors to the flat neon lights embedded in the ceiling to the nurses in white uniforms and white shoes, fluttering around, opening and shutting doors, their faces flushed with the excitement of work. Azar felt less exposed now that she could see, and on equal ground with everyone else. Behind the blindfold, she had felt incomplete, mutilated, bogged down in a fluid world of physical vulnerability, where anything could happen and she could not defend herself. Now she felt as if, with one glance, she could shed the stunting fear that hacked away at her, that made her feel less than whole, less than a person. With open eyes, in the dim corridor surrounded by the bustle of life and birth, Azar felt she was beginning to reclaim her humanity.

From behind some of those doors came the muffled chorus of babies wailing. Azar listened carefully, as if, in their endless, hungry cries, there was a message for her, a message from the other side of time, from the other side of her body and flesh.

A nurse came to a halt in front of them. She was a portly woman with bright hazel eyes. She looked up and down at Azar and then turned to Sister.

“It’s a busy day. We’re trying to cope with the Eid-e-Ghorban rush, and I don’t know if there’s any room available. But come on up. We’ll have the doctor at least take a look at her.”

The nurse led them to a flight of stairs, which Azar climbed with difficulty. Every few steps, she had to stop to catch her breath. The nurse walked ahead, as if avoiding this prisoner with her baby and her agony, the perspiration glistening on her scrawny face.

They went from floor to floor, Azar hauling her body from one corridor to the next, one closed door to another. Finally, the doctor in one of the rooms motioned them in. Azar quickly lay down and submitted herself to the doctor’s efficient, impersonal hands.

The baby inside her felt as tense as a knot.

“As I said before, we can’t keep her here,” the nurse said once the doctor was gone, the door swinging shut silently behind her. “She’s not part of this prison. You have to take her somewhere else.”

Sister signaled to Azar to get up. Descending stairs, flight after flight, floor after floor, Azar clasped the banister, tight, stiff, panting. The pain was changing gear. It gripped her back, then her stomach. She gasped, feeling as if the baby were being wrung out of her by giant hands. For a moment, her eyes welled up, to her biting shame. She gritted her teeth, swallowed hard. This was not a place for tears—not on these stairs, not in these long corridors.

Before leaving the hospital, Sister made sure the blindfold was tied hermetically over her prisoner’s bloodshot eyes.

*** view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

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?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Research together the history of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that set the stage for the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose brutal treatment of those who opposed his rule led to the events of this novel. Discuss how the characters respond to and are shaped by the history of Iran up to the current day.

2. Several recent movies have looked at Iran, including Argo, which was the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture in 2013 and centered on the Iran Hostage Crisis—precipitated by the Iranian Revolution—and For Neda, an HBO documentary about a young woman killed while she was protesting the contested election in 2009. As a group, view one of these films, and discuss how you see the themes of the book play out on the big screen.

3. The younger generation of characters in this story is deeply affected by the courageous choices their parents made. Take a few minutes to think about how your life has been affected by what your parents did when you were a child. Can you think of a period of time or a specific incident that showed you something you didn’t expect about them? Share with your group.

4. There are many charities, including the International Rescue Committee, which focus on helping victims of humanitarian crises like the ones recounted in this story. As a group, pick an organization and think of ways you can help raise money or support for refugees and those fleeing injustice. Could you host a bake sale? Walk or run a race to raise money for the charity? Together, how can you help raise support and awareness for those who are often overlooked? http://www.rescue.org/

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Children of the Jacaranda Tree"by mresler (see profile) 08/30/13

Heart wrenching story of life in Revolutionary Iran, powerful descriptions although it is
confusing following all the characters and connecting them to their relatives

 
  "Children of the Jacaranda Tree"by candyb117 (see profile) 11/16/15

This was a thought provoking book which led to interesting discussion about a neglected period in Iran's history. It was sometimes difficult to keep the charactesr straight but worth reading for it's beautiful... (read more)

 
  "Children of the Jacaranda Tree"by dbuchman (see profile) 11/14/15

Very difficult to keep track of how things were happening, Too many names.

 
  "Children of the Jacaranda Tree"by sraelling (see profile) 12/30/14

Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan... They all seem to be melded together into a place "over there." Not really knowing much about the history of Iran, this story inspired me to look into Evin Prison and the complicated... (read more)

 
  "Children of the Jacaranda Tree"by Suzanni (see profile) 07/02/13

I can't believe how good this book is. So well written, so emotional, so informative. It is a story that was on my mind for a long time after I finished it. I enjoyed Sahar Delijani’s descriptive phrases.... (read more)

 
  "CHILDREN OF THE JACARANDA TREE by Sahar Delijani"by [email protected] (see profile) 06/19/13


I found this book to be both enormously interesting and vastly disjointed. It was difficult to follow the characters and time lines. Characters came and went with alarming frequency. Time
... (read more)

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