Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani. Expected publication by Atria books on June 18, 2013. 288 pages. (Received a free advance ebook for review purposes.)
Bottom Line: Well written poignant book telling an important story. Suffers slightly from a lack of cohesion and too many characters. Recommended for most public libraries. Would be a good companion to Persepolis by Satrapi.
This book opens in terror with a pregnant imprisoned woman, blindfolded in the back of a van, being transported from where she is held as a political prison in post-revolution (late 1980s) Iran to a prison hospital while trying to hold her labor back until she arrives at the hospital.
It's a heartbreaking scene and it sets the tone for this book, the focus of which is on the children left to be raised by relatives and friends as their parents are rounded up and imprisoned/tortured/executed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. First we see these children through the eyes of their caregivers who at once are grieving for the loved ones imprisoned and themselves sacrificing much to care for the little ones. And then we jump into the modern era, to see the children as young adults themselves involved in a new round of political protests, crackdowns, and imprisonments.
It's a beautifully written book and a very timely story. In the last few years, I have found myself drawn more and more to stories from this region. However there are a lot of characters. And you have very minimal introductions to them and are plopped into their lives and expected to figure out how they relate to each other on your own. And they do all seem to relate to each other. This is almost but not quite a series of short stories or vignettes on life in Iran. Perhaps it would have been better as a series of unconnected short stories. At one point I was so distracted trying to figure out how people were connected that I was tempted to draw a flow chart.
Adding to the disjointed feeling of the multiple characters is the multiple timelines. The story jumps back and forth between the 80s and 2009 and on. A character who was once a young child was then a young adult and then again we're reading of their parent as a a twenty-something. Perhaps this rather loose narrative flow was intentional to give the sort of disrupted feeling that the children and their parents felt when their lives were interrupted by imprisonment. But if I have to reach that hard for an explanation, it might be too much.
It's a very good book and I could handle the plethora of characters or the back and forth timelines, but with them both it was just enough to keep this from being a great book. Haunting and beautiful though and I still recommend it. Just approach the book as a series of vignettes and don't worry too much about piecing it all together.