When people of Iran began demonstrating against the Shah in 1977, there was great excitement in the air and a sense that things were finally going to change. However, that jubilation was short lived. As Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran in the political vacuum that was created by the Shah’s exit, he quickly began to assert his power by banning and/or eliminating any dissenters. Groups like the National Democratic Front and the Muslim People’s Republican Party were banned, and members of the old regime were executed. Thousands of other purported offenders – accused of anything from plotting counter-revolution to sexual offenses – were imprisoned and many were later executed.
Sahar Delijani’s Children of the Jacaranda Tree begins in 1983 in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Those imprisoned in Evin were often young parents, forced to leave their children with grandparents and relatives while Khomeini’s government took away their own ability to parent.
Azar, separated from her also imprisoned husband, gave birth to her daughter Neda in a prison hospital and was allowed a precious few months with her newborn before Neda was whisked away by the prison guards. Firoozeh saw no other choice but to become the prison snitch in order to survive and dreamt of the day she could take her daughter Donya – who was being raised by her family – and leave Iran forever. At age three, Omid hid while both of his parents were violently arrested. Omid’s mother, Parisa, was pregnant at the time of her arrest and gave birth in prison; Omid was taken in by his grandmother and aunt and raised alongside Sara and Forugh, his sister and cousin. Amir, imprisoned while his pregnant wife Maryam waited at home, lived for the brief minutes when he was allowed to see his infant daughter, Sheida.
Neda, Donya, Omid, Sara, Forugh and Sheida were the children of the Iranian revolution, given birth by Delijani’s skillful hand in the Children of the Jacaranda Tree. The acknowledgements and the back cover of the book hint at Delijani’s similar experience as a child of a parent or parents imprisoned by Khomeini’s government, making the Children of the Jacaranda Tree feel like a tribute to her own history and the sacrifices of her parents.
I was at once mesmerized and harrowed by the first half of Children of the Jacaranda Tree. The second half of the book left me lukewarm. It picked up in 2008 with the children already grown, and many living abroad. Sadly, at that time, similar demonstrations and arrests were once again sweeping across Iran. The focus of this second half seemed to be to draw connections between them and to explore how their parents’ experiences affected their own lives, and how their own experiences in some ways mirrored the events of the 80s. However, I wasn’t as engrossed in their stories as I was in their parents’, and kept reading for the sake of reading. I was left wanting for more information on how the imprisonments of some adults finally ended, how they left Iran and adjusted to their new lives. While the first half of the book was also made up of somewhat separate stories, it flowed well and formed a collective experience; the second half was more fragmented and the connections between these now grown children often felt forced.
Despite my misgivings, I am very glad I read Children of the Jacaranda Tree. I was only vaguely familiar with the Iranian Revolution and the events surrounding it, and could not imagine the heartbreak and sorrow these parents must have felt at being separated from their often newborn children. Some men were executed after only seeing their children a few times, or not at all. This was not the fate they envisioned when they rallied for a new government and a new future.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Atria Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.