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Originally published Friday, June 28, 2013 at 5:03 AM

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‘Children of the Jacaranda Tree’: The legacy of repression on generations of Iranians

Sahar Delijani’s “Children of the Jacaranda Tree” depicts the brutal effects of repression in Iran on generations of Iranians. Delijani appears Saturday June 29 at the Seattle Iranian Festival and at Seattle’s University Book Store.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Sahar Delijani

The author of “Children of the Jacaranda Tree” will appear at these area locations:

• At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).

• She will sign books at the Seattle Iranian Festival, which takes place noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison St. For more on the Seattle Iranian Festival go to www.iaca-seattle.org.

• She will read at 6 p.m. Saturday at Seattle’s University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-3400 or ubookstore.com).

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Sahar Delijani’s debut novel, brutally honest but lyrical, depicts the upheaval of post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011. The slice-of-life story in “Children of the Jacaranda Tree” (Atria, 282 pp., $25.99) shifts its focus from one set of citizens to another to show the ensuing effect on individual lives.

They might be dissenters, considered to be spies by the rulers, who therefore undergo persecution and are incarcerated. Or ordinary citizens separated from their captive loved ones, whose lives will never be the same, or children of dissenters, being raised apart from their parents. The impact on this new generation, made vivid in the last quarter of the book, constitutes a major theme.

As the story opens, a pregnant woman named Azar, a political activist considered a counterrevolutionary, gives birth to a baby girl, Neda, in the notorious Evin Prison. Azar is at a loss regarding how to raise Neda in these degrading conditions. Or will Neda be taken away from her?

In another part of the same prison, Amir sits blindfolded in a windowless cell after suffering interrogation and deep humiliation at the hands of the prison guards. As he awaits his inevitable fate, he’s allowed only an occasional visit from his wife, Maryam, and infant daughter Sheida.

In Tehran, Leila, a young woman, takes care of the children of her two sisters after they’ve been taken away by the Revolutionary Guards. This obligation, among other obstacles, causes her to separate from the only man she’s ever loved. “What is life, she thinks, except a long lullaby of separation?”

As the children mature, some attempt to foment political change by joining protest demonstrations that often turn violent.

Others chose to emigrate. Neda escapes to Turin, Italy, where she’s mesmerized by the calm beauty of her surroundings. Yet during a conversation with a childhood friend, she finds herself “launched from one world to another. From the weight of the past and present in a place where a blood-soaked dagger is twisting deep inside the heart of the country to a world where a girl on a bicycle pedals through a square ...”

Sheida, also living abroad, belatedly learns that her father, Amir, was executed. The realization that her mother, Maryam, lied about the cause of his death leaves her with conflicting emotions. Although deeply disappointed, Sheida must find a way to reconcile with Maryam to bridge the distance that now exists between them.

Delijani’s extraordinary writing skills bring the horrific events of the Iranian Revolution and the resulting suffering alive for the reader. But frequent abrupt transitions in time and place are disorienting. The unrelenting bleak reality also makes it a difficult read.

There are illuminating moments, however, such as when Amir receives a visit from his wife Maryam. Her presence takes him back to “their house and the smell of roses in the garden and the yellow walls of their room and the photo of a drawing by Victor Hugo on the wall ... ”

It is as though Delijani is saying that even in the most miserable situation, we have a store of beauty inside us. All we have to do is look.

Bharti Kirchner’s latest novel is “Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery.”

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