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Book review: <i>Children Of The Jacaranda Tree</i> by Sahar Delijani

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the cover of the book

A haunting and beautiful weave of stories, tying two generations over twenty years to the tragic city of Tehran.

The story

In the 1980s Tehran was a city filled with hope and fear. Hope, because the revolution stimulated thousands of people into feeling as though there lives would change for the better. Fear, because soon it was established that the people in power after the revolution, the brothers and sisters who ruled the people, were taking their responsibilities in a different, and terrifying, direction.

Hundreds upon hundreds were locked up. Men and women who dreamed of a better future. Some women gave birth in prison and had their babies ripped away as part of the interrogation practice. Many ended up with children living with relatives, parents, friends, all of whom said nothing out of fear, just managed their lives as a collection of prison orphans came through their lives. Some of these parents, young revolutionaries, came home. Some didn't. All were scarred, affected permanently by the despair of being crushed after a little hope.

And the children of these revolutionaries grew up affected by the history of their parents, and the severity of repression in Tehran. Some of them manage to attain political asylum and leave, move to Europe and away from the instability, the sadness. Others stay to fight the fight of their parents. All of them are drawn to their homeland, to the fight of their parents and families.

The style

Children of the Jacaranda Tree is haunting. And beautiful. Sure, I said that in the intro, but I mean it so much that I want to say it again. The story starts with Azar, a young woman in labour, trying desperately to maintain a level of dignity while being dragged around in handcuffs and a restrictive chador. She has no idea if she will be given her baby when it is born, what the fate of her daughter will be. She has no idea if her husband is alive, or will know about the birth of their little girl. It's really full on from the word go, is basically the point I am trying to make. The story then examines a collection of Azar's contemporaries, and then follows their children. It can be a bit of struggle to remember who's who, because the names are unfamiliar (there's a Sara in there, but some of the names are difficult to remember immediately) but the story works so seamlessly, so beautifully, it all ties up with each character's personal struggle linking in with the greater struggle of a nation at war with itself.

The setting is so evocative, I immediately wanted to sit on tiles in the hot sun and eat dates. I could almost smell the dusty streets in Iran, I could feel all the seasons and empathised with all those characters in their struggle. And while the story was political (obviously) it wasn't pushy. It's a story about people, and the way they integrate the cause of the country they love into their personal lives. The struggle of women under a harsh religious regime is evident, but the fact that this repressive Iranian government is made up of men and women who are actual people, who aren't all single dimension “Islamic fundamentalists”, means this story would be an eye opener for a whole load of readers who have very simplistic notions about life in the Middle East.

And just for my political contribution, in this story, some of the characters, even the ones who spent time in jail under threat of death wait TEN YEARS for political asylum. TEN YEARS. That's ten years where you're living in fear for your life. And we wonder why people attempt to apply for asylum using less legal measures? Read this book if you have some kind of issue with illegal immigrants and SEE WHAT THEY COULD BE RUNNING FROM.

Who is this book for?

Everyone. To me, this is an incredibly important novel in the midst of the way the west view the middle east. Get some perspective and read it. And it's not like its history. It's in the LAST THIRTY YEARS.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Some have suggested The Kite Runner. This is better. Much better.

In short

Title: Children Of The Jacaranda Tree
Author: Sahar Delijani
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1476709093
Year published: 2013
Pages: 288
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: