Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

16130324Title: Children of the Jacaranda Tree

Author: Sahar Delijani

Rating: 3 stars

Books set in Tehran are always striking to me for the same reason. The city becomes a character in its own right, more than any other city I’ve ever read about. It is amazingly loved and alive, and every author I’ve ever seen take on Tehran makes it incredibly beautiful, despite the horrors of political and religious persecution. 

The characters of Children of the Jacaranda Tree are scarred and damaged. Some of them break under the weight of imprisonment, separation, and loss. Some of them run from Tehran. Others are unable to ever escape, tethered to the land. But all of them, in the post-revolutionary fervor of the 80s and during the 2009 Arab Spring, are fighters, struggling to hold on to their basic human dignity. 

There’s a trend I’ve noticed recently of slapping “a novel” onto books that are, really, collections of short stories. It’s all semantics, and I get it. Novels sell. Short stories don’t. But it truly, truly annoys me. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is not a novel. It’s a series of linked stories, with characters who are related to each other in complicated ways and who drift in and out of each others lives. Instead of having one overarching narrative thrust, it is a series of discreet units, each with its own plots and climaxes. This occasionally led to me feeling adrift and unable to connect to the stories. The quiet, gentle rhythms and introspective pace of the stories would have perhaps been better served by a leisurely reading over a period of weeks, instead of the three day read I gave it. 

There are elements of Children of the Jacaranda Tree that work better than others. A passage about an imprisoned father laboring over a date-stone bracelet for a daughter he’s seen only once was so beautiful that it almost brought me to tears. But others were more prosaic, and the repeated themes grew boring after awhile (there are only so many times I can read about a man and a woman falling and love and being separated in essentially the same ways). The book is obviously very autobiographical, which makes me wonder if Delijani has any other “novels” left in her. I hope she does, the writing is quite nice, and there are those moments that shine. I’d love to see something a little more fictional, focusing on just one or two strong characters instead of a long stream of them.

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