Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

I dithered about whether or not to read this book up until nearly the last second. It was for my book club and it got to the point that I knew if I didn't start it, I wouldn't finish it on time, and I really didn't want to as I am not crazy about books set int he middle east, it sounded sad, and it fulfills absolutely none of my reading challenges for 2015. So I thought I'd just give it a start and see, and if I didn't like it I'd put it down. It starts out with a woman, Azar, a prisoner, pregnant and in labor, being banging around in the back of a cargo van as she's roughly driven (blindfolded) to a hospital in Tehran. That was pretty intriguing, so I read on.

At first I was confused because at the end of Azar's chapter, we get a chapter about three little kids (none of them Azar's) who are being raised by their aunt, Leila, and their grandmother while their own parents are in prison. Then the third chapter was about a man in prison, who also seemed unrelated to the previous characters. Towards the middle of the book (which is a bit late in my opinion), you start to see how they are related (and it turns out they are mostly related, with the three little kids' mothers in chapter two being in prison with Azar, and with the man's daughter in chapter three being a cousin of theirs.) But those relationships are hard to keep straight and there are a lot of characters for a rather short book. Mostly the book jumps between 1983 and 2010. The Revolution of the 1980s has come back to haunt the families who lost years and loved ones in the first Revolution, as a second one seems to be beginning as well. A lot of them emigrate: to Germany and to Italy. Most of the end of the book takes place in Turin, not in Iran, which may be accurate, but seems a curious choice for a book about the Iranian Revolution. At the very end, we do circle back to Azar's daughter, now in her 30s and an emigree, and there's a connection made that is too coincidental to be believed.

The writing is masterful and her turns of phrase are often almost poetic. She does a good job of sketching in that place that many of us have never experienced. But I felt there were too many characters to follow, and not really any plot. One member of my book club described it as a pastoral: you see a vignette of a person's life in a time and place, and then move on to another. That's a good description of this book, but it's not a writing style I like. If there's no plot, a book relies heavily on character development, and then you need to really focus on one or two main characters, not a half a dozen. Then any development is too spread out to be noticed. I know the book has gotten great reviews, and I did appreciate learning more about a place and an event I knew nothing about, but in th end, it was not for me.

I checked this book out of the library.

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