Sahar Delijani’s heart-wrenching novel, Children of the Jacaranda Tree opens in the year I was born, 1983, where the opening takes readers into a scene of prison life for Iran’s political prisoners.
I began reading this book as I lay in the dark, putting my two-year-old son to sleep next to me in our bed. His arm was laced around mine, and I felt the tiny baby, twenty-two weeks in my womb, move and kick as newborn babies do.
And the story of Neda began, with particular closeness to my heart: the story of a woman in the midst of giving birth, being transported to a crude excuse for a prison hospital, overcome with the anguish of birth and the pain of unexpected imprisonment.
There is a certain fear that grips every mother’s heart, and a sorrow that every loving mother knows as she grows to see how broken and painful life in this world is. These are the stories that make a mother’s heart weep with sorrow when she realizes her children could face such a painful world Yet, these are the words with which this story are told, the words no mother ever hopes will be a part of her own family story.
To read this book as a pregnant woman is hard; yet to live this life as a pregnant woman and then a mother, as many have, is to live within a nightmare. This was the nightmare many knew as Post-Revolutionary Iran.
While Neda’s story opens the book, the stories of many others are similar, yet they do not all end the same. But they are all tied together through suffering stemming from the post-revolution era, Tehran’s Evin Prison, and through the symbolic Jacaranda tree. Others are imprisoned, only to expect release and find death; some lose lovers and some lose life, though the line between the two often blurs together.
While this novel is fiction, it is based on the real-life experiences of the author and her parents. Delijani’s parents were imprisoned in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, as were many of the characters of her work here. As the book closes, we are brought back to the 2013 era, when Iran once again began a similar scourge of those categorized as political criminals. Only this time, readers are reminded how modern the backdrop is, noting a few times that it is mentioned that social media and even Facebook are used in protesting and in seeing a window into the lives of the characters.
This is a timely book, as we in the West often forget the paradoxical combination of modern technology still available in the midst of harsh rules and consequences.
Beyond portraying life in Iran, the book raises some deep questions and springboards for thinking deeply about life. To name a few, The Children of the Jacaranda Tree dives into the timeless narrative of loving and losing love, considering causes bigger than oneself, the empty loss found in mass death, the loss of a generation and the multi-generational impact, and the causes for which one must be willing to risk life and family.