Sahar Delijani's publishers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, paid a six-figure sum for her debut novel, Children of The Jacaranda Tree, confident that it will be a global best-seller like Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. The book has just been published.
Set in post-revolutionary Iran, from 1983 to 2011, the story follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers. The book ends after the passage of many years, with the next generation left with the burden of the past and their country’s future as a new wave of protest and political strife begins.
Now married and living in Turin, Sahar was born in Tehran in 1983. At the time, her mother was a prisoner. After her waters broke, she was blindfolded, taken in the back of van to be interrogated in a room for hours during the distress of labour. When Sahar was born, hours would pass before her mother was allowed to hold her.
Both her parents had been arrested due to their political activism against the Islamic regime earlier that year. In 1996, when she was 12 years old, her parents moved to Northern California to join her mother’s family. Delijani was registered in a middle school, starting from 7th grade.
In 2002, Delijani enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with a BA degree in Comparative Literature. In 2006, she met her husband at Berkeley, and moved to Turin. Delijani was nominated for the 2010 and 2011 Pushcart Prize and was for a time a regular contributor to Iran-Emrooz (Iran of Today) Political and Cultural Journal.
Her debut novel Children of The Jacaranda Tree recalls the mass imprisonment of political dissidents by the Islamic Republic during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. It also details the execution, in 1988, of thousands of such prisoners .Amnesty International estimates the tally of political casualties between 4,500 and 5,000, but Delijani believes it could be as high as 12,000.
Sahar's parents are resident in California, and her mother's family members are also there. The writer does not name either her parents or her elder brother in connection with the background to the novel, which has just been published, as she explains in a Guardian interview today.
As a child, to have been born in prison felt like a badge of honour, she explains. "I thought that was the coolest story ever," Delijani declares.