New York Times bestselling author Khaled Hosseini says, “Set in post-revolutionary Iran, Sahar Delijani’s gripping novel is a blistering indictment of tyranny, a poignant tribute to those who bear the scars of it, and a celebration of the human heart’s eternal yearning for freedom.”
Neda is born in Iran’s Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for a few months before an anonymous guard appears at the cell door one day and simply takes her away. In another part of the city, three-year-old Omid 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 and the horror of murder.
These are the Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Set in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011, this stunning debut novel follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers, some related by blood, others brought together by the tide of history that washes over 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.
“Heartbreakingly heroic” (Publishers Weekly), Children of the Jacaranda Tree is an evocative portrait of three generations of men and women inspired by love and poetry, burning with idealism, chasing dreams of justice and freedom. Written in Sahar Delijani’s spellbinding prose, capturing the intimate side of revolution in a country where the weight of history is all around, it is a moving tribute to anyone who has ever answered its call.
This reading group guide forChildren of the Jacaranda Treeincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Set in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011, Children of the Jacaranda Tree follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers whose lives are forever changed by the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Delijani’s gorgeous novel is based, at least partially, on the author’s own experiences—she was born in Iran in 1983—and the stories of her family and friends who lived through the Revolution. How are we to read her interpretation of the events that she describes? Can an author ever separate her own story from the fictional world she creates? Should she? How does our own history and upbringing affect how we as readers interpret what we read?
2. The capital city Tehran is the backdrop for much of the action in this story, and is in some ways almost a character on its own. And yet some characters are drawn to the city, against all odds and in the face of all logic, while others are lured away from it, for education, for safety, for reasons they can’t explain. How does proximity to the city affect the decisions different characters make? In what ways does landscape shape who we become?
3. The characters we meet throughout this book often don’t immediately seem to be connected, but it is slowly revealed how intricately intertwined their stories are and how each of their experiences brings them close to each other as if they were a family. In what ways is this like real life? How is it different? How do you think history plays a role in creating bonds between people that otherwise will not have existed?
4. The children born after the Revolution are affected by what happened to their parents, and to their country, in different ways. And yet each, in their own way, wants what Donya wants, to “finish everything their parents left undone.” (p. 223) How do you see each of the characters of the younger generation wrestling with this in different ways? Do you think this is a universal theme? Does every generation essentially fight the same fight? How do you see this in other cultures and other periods in history?
5. “Truth,” Sheida says, when she finds out her mother has lied to her about how her father died, “cannot have so many sides.” (p. 181) Do you agree?
6. “If it’s anything that can easily be articulated in an article, then it’s an insult to put the same thoughts and ideas into the language of poetry,” Omid says. “It sullies its essence, because poetry is there to say what cannot be said.” (p. 220) Do you agree with his sentiments? How does this affect the form this story takes? Why do you think the author chose to write a novel based on her family’s experiences instead of a nonfiction piece? Do you think poetry or a novel can ever communicate a message better than nonfiction?
7. “We all have a tree inside of us,” Ismael has told Azar. “Finding it is just a matter of time.” (p. 36) What do you think this means? How do the characters reflect this? What does the jacaranda tree represent?
8. For each character, in one way or another, there's some hope that accompanies them at the end of their stories. The only character who is left with nothing is Donya. Why do you think this is?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Research together the history of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that set the stage for the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose brutal treatment of those who opposed his rule led to the events of this novel. Discuss how the characters respond to and are shaped by the history of Iran up to the current day.
2. Several recent movies have looked at Iran, including Argo, which was the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture in 2013 and centered on the Iran Hostage Crisis—precipitated by the Iranian Revolution—and For Neda, an HBO documentary about a young woman killed while she was protesting the contested election in 2009. As a group, view one of these films, and discuss how you see the themes of the book play out on the big screen.
3. The younger generation of characters in this story is deeply affected by the courageous choices their parents made. Take a few minutes to think about how your life has been affected by what your parents did when you were a child. Can you think of a period of time or a specific incident that showed you something you didn’t expect about them? Share with your group.
4. There are many charities, including the International Rescue Committee, which focus on helping victims of humanitarian crises like the ones recounted in this story. As a group, pick an organization and think of ways you can help raise money or support for refugees and those fleeing injustice. Could you host a bake sale? Walk or run a race to raise money for the charity? Together, how can you help raise support and awareness for those who are often overlooked? http://www.rescue.org/
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.
“Set in post-revolutionary Iran, Delijani’s gripping novel is a blistering indictment of tyranny, a poignant tribute to those who bear the scars of it, and a celebration of the human heart’s eternal yearning for freedom.”
– Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and And the Mountains Echoed
“Delijani is exceptionally talented as a writer, and the subject matter is both compelling and timely.... [A] searing and somber slice-of-life novel, centered around children whose parents were singled out for persecution by the Iranian government... [Delijani] scores a win with her grittiness and uncompromising realism.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Filled with compelling characters and poetic language, this beautiful and poignant novel highlights the unbreakable bond between parent and child, and a people’s passionate dedication to their homeland, despite its many flaws.”
– Publishers Weekly
“This deeply personal account of the rich, lustrous tapestry of life, family, love and searing loss amid the Iranian revolution moved me to tears more than once. Like the characters of Children Of The Jacaranda Tree, Delijani herself is a revolutionary: a fiercely brave, beautiful and unflinching new voice.”
– Abigail Tarttelin, author of Golden Boy
“The way [Delijani] describes the tensions between young people in love is extraordinary.”
– Associated Press
“Delijani's debut is full of rich characters, meticulously developed. Their authenticity draws the reader into their experiences, making it difficult to remain unaffected.... Children of the Jacaranda Tree is an enlightening look at—and a reminder of—the individual human element in the larger movements of politics and history. Given its autobiographical roots, Children of the Jacaranda Tree is an especially admirable and brave debut.”
“Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a beautifully rendered tale that reads almost like a collection of connected short stories, with characters’ perspectives and histories being unveiled as they intersect with one another.”
“A literary triumph.... Incredibly, Delijani manages to convey so much in her gorgeous, gripping debut novel. The result is a striking portrait of Iranian life that is as intimate and magical as the Jacaranda tree itself.”
“Delijani shows us again and again that regaining a childhood is impossible; death stories take that away. She shows that there is rarely a time for going back. Choices are made, lovers must leave, and secrets remain. The truths of the book are truths of our own lives. The hope that Delijani offers to us is that the next generation will understand the gifts and sacrifices made for them and go forward.... Children of the Jacaranda Tree is worth talking about, passing on to a friend, and re-reading for its beauty.”
“Delijani’s extraordinary writing skills bring the horrific events of the Iranian Revolution and the resulting suffering alive for the reader.... It is as though Delijani is saying that even in the most miserable situation, we have a store of beauty inside us. All we have to do is look.”
– Bharti Kirchner, author of Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery in the Seattle Times
“This is not an 'explaining Iran to those who don’t know it' book, but something far more visceral.... A stunning debut set in the wake of the Iranian revolution.”