In The Library

‘Being a writer is a bit like playing God’
A Q&A with Sahar Delijani

Sahar Delijani was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1983 and grew up in California, Children of the Jacaranda Tree is her first novel and was inspired by her family’s experience as political activists and prisoners in Iran.

Who is your favourite author?

I have become obsessed with many writers in my life. I read everything they have written and copy down the phrases that I love, words that I find surprising, descriptions that I try to learn from. It is like a painter doodling or sketching. My favourite writers range from Dostoyevsky to Arundhati Roy, from Milan Kundera to Herta Müller, from Albert Camus to J.M. Coetzee. Currently I have two new obsessions: W.G. Sebald and Patrick Modiano.

What book do you most often recommend to friends?

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Reading what I have written the day before, then sometimes also a few pages from one of the many books that are permanently present on my desk. In short, warming up before diving in.

If you weren’t a writer what job would you liked to have gone into?

When I was a student at the University of Berkeley, I entered the work-study program and got a job as an usher at the Pacific Film Archive, which belongs to the University of Berkeley. What was beautiful about this job was that night after night I got to sit inside the theatre and watch films from the incredibly rich retrospectives curated by the archive. I cannot tell you how many films, documentaries, and shorts I watched during those years, but I had the feeling then and still have it at times now that it was something that I could do forever: sit in the very last dark corner of the theatre and watch film after film.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

The very fact of writing. The power one has as a writer to create characters, shape destinies, to kill and to bring to life. It is a bit like playing God.

What one item could you not live without?

My laptop!

Tell us something that will shock your readers.

I do not know if anyone would find this shocking, but there are times that days come and go when I do not hear my own voice. Due to the many trips I have to take to festivals and so on to promote my book, I tend to shut myself in when I’m at home and write as much as possible. Hence – this happens especially when my husband is away on a work trip – there are moments when I realise it has been days since I last heard myself speak. It is a funny sensation. I usually end up calling friends and going out and slowly going back to real life.

What makes you happy?

Those very rare moments when I write a full paragraph without the need to stop every few minutes and revise. It is like having an epiphany. Going back to California and visiting my family. Driving through Italy and stopping by tiny random villages on the way. Reading a good book. Visiting childhood friends in Tehran. The Mediterranean Sea in September.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

You have to pretend that writing is like office work. You have to get up every morning and go to the office; if you don’t, you will be fired. Writing is the same thing.

The members of my dream book club would be . . .

Writers, dead or alive, that I admire.

Children of the Jacaranda Tree is out now in paperback, eBook and audio

Sahar Delijani

Sahar Delijani was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1983 and grew up in California, where she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She lives with her husband in Turin, Italy.