Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

Many years ago when I finished Reading Lolita in Tehran, I wanted to find someone to talk to about the book and about Iran. Aside from what we have heard on the news about the conflicts in the Middle East for so long, there weren't many people who had any knowledge of what had gone on there. Luckily (or unluckily for her), there was a mom whose little guy was on my little guy's soccer team who told me she and her husband were Persian and had come to this country in the 80s. Voila! Someone to talk to about Iran and the events that so fascinated me. Except she wasn't so interested in talking to me about it. And I didn't understand her reluctance. But after reading more, including Sahar Delijani's debut novel Children of the Jacaranda Tree, I can begin to understand why she was so polite but vague to one enthusiastic but ignorant person interested in hearing about an event that changed the lives of so many people, destroying families, making certain beliefs punishable by sharia law, driving people into exile, and altering the landscape of the region forever.

Azar is in labor and about to give birth. She is also a political prisoner in Evin Prison in Tehran in 1983, as is her husband, of whom she has had no news for months. Although it is clear that Azar has been tortured and abused in prison, she cannot focus on anything but the imperative of her body as she strains to bring her baby into the world, not even on the relentless questioning she is forced to endure before she is taken to delivery in hopes that the combination of natural physical pain and ruthless disregard for her situation will cause her to break. Baby Neda is born into the prison, a small ray of light in the cell where Azar and many fellow female dissidents are being held, until the day a guard takes the baby away to live with her grandparents. Azar is just one of the many political dissidents jailed in Evin Prison for their activism inspired by the failure of the promise of the Islamic Revolution and her story is just one of many here.

Ordinary people wanting the best for Iran are arrested and detained, changing not only their lives but the lives of their families. Grandparents and aunts are suddenly raising grandchildren, sacrificing plans and dreams for their loved ones. Wives are widowed with no warning, left with fatherless children. Unexplained executions shatter the lives of the citizenry as religious conservatives offer no quarter to those who do not believe in the exact same Allah that they do. There's a large cast of characters here, prisoners, their estranged families, and their children and each and every one of them suffers as a result of the Revolution. Ranging from 1983 through 2011, the novel examines the shame, the fear, the brutality, and the torture that are the lasting effects of the stringent and unyielding ruling party even for those who become part of the diaspora.

The stories come across as vignettes rather than a unified novel with an overarching and unifying plot because the connections between the characters are sometimes a bit tenuous, requiring the reader to flip back to the front of the book to consult the list of characters again in order to place them. The jumping back and forth in time, often from character to character, can be disconcerting and feels a little choppy but Delijani manages to keep the tension high over the ultimate fates of her characters, emphasizing the arbitrariness of life in Tehran, post-Revolution. The language is poetic and often times beautiful in this tale of three generations forever impacted by prison and the aftermath of dissidence. Delijani's novel, culled from her parents' experiences and her own birth in Evin prison, bears telling as a means of bearing witness to the long reaching wrongs done in the name of extremism.

1 comment:

  1. The flipping back and forth sounds tedious. Definitely not a book to read on the Kindle! Maybe a character outline would help. Because it sounds like an important read.


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