Sahar Delijani was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1983 and her first novel, Children of the Jacaranda Tree was inspired by her family’s experience as political activists and prisoners in Iran.
In the summer of 1988, the last year of the Iran–Iraq War, around 4,000 to 12,000 political prisoners were executed in Iran’s prisons by the newly established Islamic regime. The bodies of these prisoners were dumped into mass graves and disappeared into oblivion.
An unprecedented political purge in modern Iranian history, this massacre marked the extent to which the regime was willing to go in order 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 night by 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, where these stories were told. 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 what- ever 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 me. The three children who were raised by my grandparents and aunt while our parents were languishing in Evin Prison. But 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 products of 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 unfailingly connected.
Who we are today is a continuation of who our parents were thirty years before, on the eve of the Iranian Revolution. That is when I began speaking to my parents about what had happened. 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 who I had never known, the memory of whom was as undeniable and present as it was silent and subdued. What my parents told me gave me enough material 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.
Watch the video trailer for Children of the Jacaranda Tree