In the summer of 1988, the last year of Iran-Iraq war, around 4,000 to 12,000 political prisoners were executed in prisons of Iran by the newly established Islamic regime. The bodies of these prisoners were dumped into mass graves and into oblivion.
An unprecedented political purge in modern Iranian history, this massacre marked the extent of which the regime was willing to go to fully establish power. A dictatorship was born in Iran.
My parents, who had been arrested in 1983 because of their political activism against the regime, were released before this atrocity took place. My father just six months earlier. My uncle, however, was still in prison. He was executed that summer; his body too was dumped into an unmarked mass grave.
My childhood was accompanied by these stories, told in hushed voices, at homes, at night with friends of my parents who had all been cellmates in the infamous Evin Prison. Outside of this circle of shared stories, no one spoke about it. No one mentioned it. No one seemed to know. And us, children of these dissidents, heard these stories. We were never the direct interlocutors, but our nightly games were surrounded by the hum of these murmuring conversations that we knew we could never repeat outside of our houses. For although our parents laughed and smiled and spoke in soft tones to reassure us that everything was fine, we could still sense the fear, the grief and the apprehension in their voices. And we knew we had to do whatever we could to protect our mothers and our fathers.
When I began to write Children of the Jacaranda Tree, I had three very specific children in mind: my brother, my cousin, and I. The three children who were raised by my grandparents and aunt while our parents were languishing in Evin Prison. Then slowly, my thoughts were ridden with voices of other children, all children of revolutionaries soon to become children of the persecuted, the imprisoned, the executed. Some of these voices were based on children I knew, some were rising in bits and pieces in my imagination. But what we all had in common, both the real and the imaginary, was that we were all children without parents. Some for a few months, some for a few years, and some forever.
And yet, I could not speak about the children without beginning with the parents. Our lives were intricately and relentlessly connected. What we are today is a continuation of what our parents were thirty years before on the eve of the Iranian revolution. That is when I began speaking to my parents. I spoke to my mother about my birth in prison, to my father about a bracelet of date stones he had made for me while in jail, about my executed uncle I had never come to know, an uncle whose memory was as undeniable and present as it was silent and subdued. What my parents told me gave me enough ground to speak of them and of us, and of an event that not only changed the life of my family forever but inexorably changed the course of history in Iran.
Sahar Delijani was born in Tehran’s Evin Prison in 1983 and grew up in California, where she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She makes her home with her husband in Turin Italy. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is her first novel; it has been translated into twenty-seven languages and published in more than seventy-five countries. Find out more at SaharDelijani.com/en.
Neda is born in Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for months before the arms of a guard appear at the cell door one day and, simply, take her away. Omid, at age three, 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, the horror, of murder.
Neda, Omid, and Sheida are just three of the many unforgettable characters in Sahar Delijani’s startling debut novel, Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Set in post-revolutionary Iran, from 1983 to 2011, it follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers, some connected by family, others brought together by the tide of history that forces its way into 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.
Based on the harrowing experiences of Sahar Delijani, her family and friends, Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a stunningly evocative look at the intimate side of revolution. Told from alternating perspectives that connect to Iran’s current political stirrings while vividly recounting a past that must never be forgotten, it is a moving, timely drama about three generations of men and women moved by love, inspired by poetry, and motivated by dreams of justice and freedom.