Evin House of Detention in Tehran, Iran

Evin House of Detention in Tehran, Iran

In 1983, a baby girl named Neda is born in prison in Tehran, Iran. The baby’s mother is a political prisoner and only allowed to keep her for a few months before a guard takes her away. Neda is a fictional character in the debut novel “Children of the Jacaranda Tree” by Sahar Delijani. But Neda is based on the real life story of the book’s author, who spent the first forty-five days of her life in prison in Tehran. Like the fictional character Neda, Delijani was raised by her grandparents for a few years until her parents were released. Delijani’s family eventually leaves Iran and moves to northern California.


  • Sahar Delijani Author

Read An Excerpt

Copyright © 2013 by Sahar Delijani from “Children Of The Jacaranda Tree” published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Sahar Delijani's debut novel is based on the true story of the author's own birth in 1983 in an Iranian prison. The novel details the lives of several political prisoners and their children who inherit their country's tenuous future. The book is titled "Children of the Jacaranda Tree." Sahar Delijani joins me in the studio. You're welcome to be part of the program. You can call us on 800-433-8850, send us an email to drshow@wamu.org., follow us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Good morning to you and welcome.

  • 11:07:50

    MS. SAHAR DELIJANIGood morning. Thank you so much for having me.

  • 11:07:52

    REHMI'm delighted. I gather that this story was really inspired by what happened to your own family. Tell us about your parents and what happened to them in 1983.

  • 11:08:13

    DELIJANIRight. My parents were actually active before the revolution and so they participated in the revolution overthrowing the shah.

  • 11:08:21


  • 11:08:22

    DELIJANIOn the streets throwing -- I mean, giving out leaflets and talking to people. My dad was a student he just talked to people a lot. It was that sort of activism. And they continued to be active. They stand politically -- I mean, in -- they were part of a party -- a political party. And -- but they continued because they didn't think that the Islamic regime was exactly the answer they wanted.

  • 11:08:52

    DELIJANIThe first few years of the revolution, after the revolution, some of these parties were actually tolerated, some of these political parties. So there was talk of democracy and so on. But in 1983 that all changed and they arrested almost all political activists. My parents were arrested and also a lot of my family members, my uncles and my aunts and so on. My mom was pregnant with me in 1983 so the first chapter of the novel, which is about a woman giving birth in jail, is actually my birth story. I had my mom tell me how it happened.

  • 11:09:30

    DELIJANIAnd then fortunately they were released a few years after, but my uncle, my dad's brother, was still in prison. And in 1988 he was one of those thousands of people who were executed in prison. We don't know the exact number. there's something between 4,000 to 12,000. And the reason we don't know is because they were buried in mass graves. And those mass graves were there until a few years ago. Families kept going back wanting to, you know, just something because they didn't have anything.

  • 11:10:09

    DELIJANIAnd unfortunately just a few years earlier -- I mean, just a few years ago they came with a bulldozer and, like, took everything away. So now we don't even know where the bodies are.

  • 11:10:23

    REHMTell me about your mother's giving birth and then how long you were with her as an infant.

  • 11:10:36

    DELIJANIYeah, so my mom -- and I was with her for about a month and a few weeks. Then I was given to my grandparents, my mom's parents to be raised. And so was my cousin because my aunt was also in prison and he was born 18 days after me.

  • 11:10:52

    REHMI see.

  • 11:10:52

    DELIJANISo we were both given to my grandparents. And so the story of the birth is quite similar to what I wrote in the novel. So they take her on a van to different hospitals until she's admitted to one. And they do interrogate her while she's going through labor. And then finally she gives birth and then she goes back to prison on the same day. She takes the baby from the hospital to the prison on the same day.

  • 11:11:24

    REHMIt was extraordinary to me to read how truly heartless the prison guards were and those even transporting her in this van to the prison because clearly she was in agony. Her amniotic fluid broke. She was going -- she was hard at labor and yet she keeps addressing these guards as sister. Tell me about that. I was interested.

  • 11:12:04

    DELIJANIWell, actually the guards -- the prisoners were supposed to call the guards sister because after the revolution there was this idea of everybody calling each other sister and brother, I mean, by the government. So it wasn't something that my mom chose to do. I mean, she had to do it. She kept -- she didn't -- a lot of the time she didn't even know their names. So that was just sort of a title they would use.

  • 11:12:32

    REHMWas there ever a point at which doctors and nurses cared for her kindly during the birth process?

  • 11:12:43

    DELIJANIWell, the doctors and nurses, because they were part of the hospital, yes -- I mean, the doctor was trying to actually keep my mom for a few days. She didn't want -- she knew she was a prisoner and everything but she wanted to keep her. She thought that it's dangerous for her to leave now. And the guard, the sister didn't accept that. And so my mom, yes, she says that they tried to help.

  • 11:13:11

    DELIJANIAnd there was a certain point that my mom, like, pinches her -- I write that in the novel -- that pinches her that no -- like trying to tell her what the sister's saying is not true, that they don't have medication inside prison and so on. And the doctor understands that, you know, and then tries to convince the sister too. But she's not -- she doesn't win the battle.

  • 11:13:33

    REHMHow long were you in the care of your grandparents?

  • 11:13:39

    DELIJANIMy mom was released about a year after, so about a year. But we stayed with my grandparents until my dad was released for two years and a half, so the very first years.

  • 11:13:52

    REHMAnd what kind of education did you receive?

  • 11:13:58

    DELIJANIWell, I mean, I was very young, but the kind of education I received I would say was love. I mean, it was just -- I really -- all my life I've been so much cared for. I always say like I've been over spoiled. And also my cousin and my brother. Because our parents were in there for those few years, like they were just filling us with extra love, you know. They wanted to sort of make up for anything that we could be missing because our parents were in there.

  • 11:14:29

    DELIJANISo I'd say my education was that sense of solidarity is so important. Caring for other is so important. And sometimes we shouldn't always -- I mean, you shouldn't always look at your own interests. I mean, would do anything for someone else. I think that's what I learned.

  • 11:14:46

    REHMHow long did you stay in Tehran after your parents were released?

  • 11:14:53

    DELIJANIWe stayed actually for quite a long time. We left Iran in '96, even though my parents could've left earlier if they wanted to because my mom's family were all in the states. My grandparents left just a few years after my parents were released. I mean, for years my family was in the states for years, my mom's uncles and so on. But my parents decided to stay in Iran for some time because they wanted my brother and I to have an Iranian education...

  • 11:15:22


  • 11:15:22

    DELIJANI...despite everything. They wanted us to learn how to read and write. They wanted us to learn, like, writing calligraphy. They wanted us to just get an idea of the culture, of the poetry. So then in '96 when I was 12 and my brother was 14, my mom decided it's time to go, and also because she wanted to be reunited with her family in California.

  • 11:15:42

    REHMSo the elementary school education you had was real quality.

  • 11:15:54

    DELIJANII would say, I would say because -- both at home and at school because it's true that -- I mean, we did -- education changed a little bit of course after the revolution. We had the religion hours and that -- the Quran hours. But the teachers were so dedicated. The teachers were the same, you know, so they wanted to teach us about poetry, about geography, all of those things. I mean, I would say I had a very high quality education at school.

  • 11:16:18

    DELIJANIAnd at home my parents would want us to learn anything that the school is not telling us. So books that you wouldn't be able to read -- but, I mean, by this I don't mean anything. My mom -- my dad, for example, would give me like Victor Hugo's books to read or like the life of Thomas Edison or, you know, all of these books that we couldn't -- you know, at school we wouldn't read. And all of the poetry that was censored in literature books at school, we would all have all of that. So I would get different points of view from home and school.

  • 11:16:51

    REHMBut it's interesting to me that you, as a girl, were allowed to attend school.

  • 11:17:00

    DELIJANIOh yes, yes. Iranian women have always gone to school. Actually the ironic thing sort of, because it's a religious country now and you wouldn't think that, but after the revolution -- the Iranian revolution we had a very high jump in not only school but university presence of women. So now we -- 60 percent of university students are women in Iran because one reason is that a lot of maybe conservative families that before didn't feel comfortable to send their children -- their daughters out don't anymore. So everybody went to school, you know.

  • 11:17:42

    DELIJANISo we have a very high level of education in Iran. And if you go to Iran and talk to them, it's just such high level of sophistication and they're very cultivated. So, yeah, that's how it is actually.

  • 11:17:57

    REHMAnd once you left Iran, you came here to the states...

  • 11:18:04

    DELIJANIExactly, yes.

  • 11:18:05

    REHM...to live where?

  • 11:18:06

    DELIJANIIn California -- northern California close to San Francisco.

  • 11:18:10

    REHMAnd you were there throughout your education because you actually went to Berkeley in California.

  • 11:18:17

    DELIJANIExactly. Yes, I did, yes.

  • 11:18:19

    REHMAll right. Sahar Delijani. When we come back she's going to read from her new novel based in part on her own early experience. It's titled "Children of the Jacaranda Tree." Stay with us.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd if you just joined us, Sahar Delijani is with me. She was born in an Iranian prison where her mother had been taken. After her birth, she was taken by the guards and given to Sahar's grandparents where she lived until both her mother and father were released from prison. Now she's written a novel. It's titled, "Children of the Jacaranda Tree." And, Sahar, explain that title for us.

  • 11:20:50

    DELIJANIRight. Jacaranda trees are actually tropical trees. So they don't -- they're very rare in Iran. They definitely don't exist in Tehran. They exist in South Africa and Australia. But my grandmother once told me that she wanted one. I don't know where she had seen the picture, I don't know how she got to it.

  • 11:21:11

    REHMIt's a beautiful tree.

  • 11:21:12

    DELIJANIIt's a beautiful tree, it's a beautiful tree. And she wanted one and she planted one in her little garden in Tehran. But of course this tree never made it because it's too cold. It's a mountainous city. But for me, as I was writing the novel, I kept remembering this fact of her wanting this tree and never getting this tree. And it reminded me of the Iranian Revolution. Symbolically for me, the jacaranda tree my grandmother never had was like the Iranian revolution because there was so much hope behind this revolution.

  • 11:21:46

    REHMAnd expectation.

  • 11:21:47

    DELIJANIAnd expectations. And, you know, our parents thought that this revolution is going to be a beautiful jacaranda tree with beautiful flowers and it didn't become what it was imagined to be, what they had fought for, you know? And so, the children of the jacaranda tree are the children of the revolution and more specifically children of those activists who had participated in the revolution but later on fall victim to themselves.

  • 11:22:16

    REHMAnd how do you think you were affected by, really, your early life in the revolutionary period?

  • 11:22:29

    DELIJANIWell, I think the prison -- the fact that my parents were in prison is something that we have carried with ourselves always. I don't remember much of course. I was very young. But I've always heard stories and I know that every decision my parents have made throughout their lives, ever since the prison years, have been affected by it, you know. So, I mean, for example, my father came out of prison and he was a top student before going to prison and he couldn't go back to university. So there are really...

  • 11:23:00

    REHMBecause he had been...

  • 11:23:01

    DELIJANIBecause of his act -- exactly, his activism having been -- because now they were marked as anti-revolutionaries. So at that point, he could not continue studying and that already changes your life upside down. So -- and for me as a child, I just always knew that I should not tell anyone about this, that there was -- the world inside the house where we could easily speak about everything, all my parents' friends were prison friends.

  • 11:23:29

    DELIJANIBut the world outside of the house, it was risky. Like my mom said, just don't ever tell anybody where your have been. And because of that, I never actually really made very intimate friendships with anyone because I was scared that at a certain point it would just, like, I can't help it anymore and, you know, it will come out. And because of that, life changes like that, you know. And I always felt closer to the children of my parents' friends because we all have that background so were free to say whatever we want.

  • 11:24:03

    DELIJANISo that already, I think, creates this certain suspicion toward everyone else in the country that it came with you, even later on, even though, you know, you're in the States or in Italy and you know you don't face any sort of danger but it's still in the back of your head. And -- but, you know, then you write a book about it and things change.

  • 11:24:27

    REHMThings change. Do you fear that there could be repercussions from this book?

  • 11:24:39

    DELIJANIWell, probably, I don't know. I mean, you know, dictatorships work in this way. You don't know what you're afraid of. You don't know what risks you're running and they compound that, this sort of paranoia we could get. But then the matter of the fact is that if this is a book -- it's not a political book. I don't think this is a political book, but it is about an event that which the government has never publicly admitted to, especially the number of the executed.

  • 11:25:13

    DELIJANIYou know, if there are thousands, they have never publically admitted to that. So they wouldn't be so happy about it. So now my parents and a few friends are saying, you know, it's better not to go back to Iran for some time and just see how it's received and what happens.

  • 11:25:29

    REHMWhat is life like for women now in Iran?

  • 11:25:35

    DELIJANIWell, I think life is very difficult for women in Iran. There are many, of course, there are many limitations. But at the same time, the Iranian women are some of the most active and brave women, people I have ever met. And they're fighting very, very hard for not only for women's right but just for civil rights, for human rights. So some of our most famous lawyers, human rights lawyers are women.

  • 11:26:08

    DELIJANIOne of the most famous one is Shirin Ebadi who won the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago. So there is that -- there are those limitations. But culturally, I think the entire country is much more ahead -- culturally, they're much more ahead as regards to laws. We have laws against women. There are jobs they cannot do, like become the president or become a judge. But culturally, people are just like beyond that, you know.

  • 11:26:35

    DELIJANIAnd I think men and women right now are fighting side to side -- side by side for everybody's rights.

  • 11:26:42

    REHMWould you read for us from the novel?

  • 11:26:46

    DELIJANIDefinitely, yes. I actually -- yeah.

  • 11:26:48

    REHMAnd set-up for us where you're going to read.

  • 11:26:54

    DELIJANIWell, I have chosen a piece, which is from the second chapter where -- this is -- it's a moment of arrest, basically. They come and take the parents of this little boy away and they're having lunch. And this actually happened to many families because there were no warnings or anything. They just sort of broke into the house and took (word?) away. And so this is what this little section is about.

  • 11:27:22

    DELIJANI"This was how Leila found Omid -- wide-eyed, taut limbed and sucking ferociously on his fingers. He was sitting at the dining table, surrounded by ravished house. All of the doors were flung opened, the cabinets and drawers had been gutted on the floor. There were books and papers and clothes everywhere, and envelopes, and hairpins, and pens, and shoes.

  • 11:27:46

    DELIJANIOn some of Parissa's clothes, there were dusty boot prints. Omid had been there when his parents were arrested. They were having lunch. The sky was blue, without a cloud, featureless. The air smelled of approaching heat, the season seemed about to turn on its hinges. Omid's father was mashing the meat and chickpeas and potato in a steal bowl, pestle in hand, fingers curled around the bowl, steam rising to his chin.

  • 11:28:15

    DELIJANIOmid dipped his finger into the bowl of yogurt that was blended with crushed rose petals. Parissa frowned at him. 'How many times have I told you to use a spoon?' Omid didn't know what to do with his finger with the wrong that had already been done. So it lingered in the bowl where the yogurt felt cold and soft. He looked at his mother, at her beautiful eyes and luscious hair that cascaded over her shoulders, at the lovely purple blouse that enhanced the rosiness of her cheeks and fell over the growing bulge of her stomach, at the love that seem to spill out of her eyes has submerged everything.

  • 11:28:53

    DELIJANI'It's okay,' Parissa said, 'your finger's already in the bowl. But next time, use your spoon.' Omid lifted the finger to his mouth and tasted yogurt and roses. That was when the land lady appeared at the door flanked by two officers. She was pale. Her eyes wide with terror. She spoke hurriedly, compulsively fixing her (word?) and pleading and saying words that had lost all sense in the face of her fear.

  • 11:29:20

    DELIJANIThe guards came in and simply took his parents away. Omid was left at the table with the meal in front of him. Parissa had touched his face fleetingly, her fingers cold as ice. His father had placed a kiss on his forehead and told him not to be afraid, that they'd come right back. But his voice was so thin that something inside Omid made a quiet plop and vanished forever. The guards had been looking for documents, letters, leaflets, poems, forbidden books.

  • 11:29:50

    DELIJANIThey left with their hands full. There were so many pieces of life that had to be carried away. Those papers were now going to decide who went and who stayed. His parents, with their love and their fight and their papery lives, were gone and Omid sat at the table, the chaos around him, he couldn't cry. He sat there shaking, saliva running down his fingers. The land lady ran after the guards who put his parents away, handcuffed and blindfolded.

  • 11:30:21

    DELIJANIThey were not pulling hard because his parents were not resisting. They were not flailing their arms, they were not screaming. It was all quiet, like a Sunday morning in a mosque. It was as though they had been waiting for it, his parents for the guards to come and make a shambles of their home and their life and the child who was left behind and the child who was yet to come to ravaged through it all and spew everything onto their faces.

  • 11:30:49

    DELIJANIOnly later when her voice died in her throat, her words lying lifeless at the doorsteps, did the land lady run to the phone to call (word?) Maman Zinat and Omid sat alone with half-mashed stew on a bowl of yogurt in front of him that smelled of roses."

  • 11:31:09

    REHMAnd it is the voice of Sahar Delijani reading from her new novel, it's titled "Children of the Jacaranda Tree." And we will take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org and you can follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Tell us about Leila and who she is.

  • 11:31:52

    DELIJANIWell, I based the character of Leila on many of the aunts who were around when children were coming from prison basically. And my aunt, for example, was there. She was a young woman and she helped out my grandparents to raise us. But, you know, I talked to many of my friends who were in the same situation. They said, yes, you know, they were raised by their grandparents.

  • 11:32:16

    DELIJANIThere was always an aunt or an uncle around. So it was about, you know, the fact that not the -- it wasn't only the victims' lives that turns upside down but everybody, all those people who are directly or indirectly involved in that tragedy, their life changes forever and they have to make huge sacrifices. And I wanted people to know that, you know. It's a huge family of people, a community of people that have to make decisions.

  • 11:32:45

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How long did those abductions go on?

  • 11:32:55

    DELIJANIWell, all the imprisonments were happening even before '83. And it was -- but the huge bulk of it was in '83 but it was constant. After the revolution, they just started and it continued to '88. But the fact is that we still have people in prisons, young people now after the 2009 movement -- activists, journalists -- who are in prison now. So, I mean, in a way, we're still living that same reality.

  • 11:33:26

    REHMDo you think -- do you believe that the new president of Iran could make a difference?

  • 11:33:36

    DELIJANIWell, I hope so, I do hope so because there is a lot of people energy behind him and people are putting pressure on him. And I hope that, you know, sometimes you are a certain person and people turn you into another person. And I hope he listens to those voices. And even if he releases one political prisoner, that's still a good step.

  • 11:34:01

    REHMYou were actually in Iran 2009.

  • 11:34:07


  • 11:34:09

    REHM2010. The 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in 2009, talk about what you saw and how you felt being back there.

  • 11:34:24

    DELIJANIWell, I loved being back in Iran. There's really nothing for me -- nothing more beautiful because it's a country of amazing energy, it's a country of intelligent, active young people. So every time I go back to Iran, I just felt I come back wanting to do something, anything. You know, I feel like that energy has been injected into me as well. But when I went to Iran, it was after all the protest and the crackdown.

  • 11:34:54

    DELIJANISo there was also a sense of despair and everybody was very sad. It was that sense, just simply sadness. But at the same time, and that's what is just amazing about Iranians, that they never lose hope. So my sense was that they were just -- they had taken a step back to sort of see, okay, what is the next move we have to make? What is the next opportunity we have to grasp? And my sense now, I'm glad because that sense was correct because we saw what happened with huge participation in these elections. So that's Iran. I mean, it's a country that never stops fighting.

  • 11:35:31

    REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, take a call from Jesse in Ann Arbor, MI. Good morning to you.

  • 11:35:41

    JESSEHi, good morning. Thank you so much for having me on your show, Diane.

  • 11:35:44


  • 11:35:46

    JESSESo, Sahar, I just wanted to tell you thank you for writing this book and talking on the show. I work with children, I'm a teacher and I work with a lot of children from different backgrounds. And what I've been noticing is that specifically children from Middle Eastern backgrounds encounter a lot of troubles when they come here in terms of dealing with the way their countries and betrayed in the media or just the general relations between the U.S. and whatever country their parents come from and kind of, you know, finding a way to mix that with being in a new country and powers of assimilation and whatnot.

  • 11:36:29

    JESSEAnd I'm just wondering what your experience was when you came to California and how you either battled it or did not battle against sort of compromising what people believed your country to look like in your experience and...

  • 11:36:50

    DELIJANIYeah. Hi, thank you for your question. Well, to be honest, in California, when I moved to California, I mean, there's such mixed of people and races and countries and religions that I did not feel left out. I mean, there were so many Middle Easterns there as well. So I have to say those few years I did not. I actually never felt that sort of conflict.

  • 11:37:12

    REHMAnd you already spoke English, I gather.

  • 11:37:16

    DELIJANIWell, no, in the beginning I didn't actually.

  • 11:37:18

    REHMYou did not?

  • 11:37:18

    DELIJANII did not, no. So I -- we went to ESL courses in the beginning.

  • 11:37:23

    REHMGood for you.

  • 11:37:23

    DELIJANIYeah, yeah.

  • 11:37:24

    REHMSahar Delijani and we're talking about her new novel, "Children of the Jacaranda Tree." Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd if you've just joined is Sahar Delijani is with me. Her new novel based to a certain extent on her own life experience is titled, "Children of the Jacaranda Tree." It's a tree that does not grow in Iran, which is where she was born, but it represents for her something beautiful, something longed for as those who saw the revolution in Iran hoped for and indeed longed for. Just before the break we were talking about what you faced when you arrived here in the United States. You were 12 years old.

  • 11:40:59

    DELIJANII was 12 years old exactly and, you know, it was all much fun. I never felt left out or anything and it's a very mixed community at my school, but I have to say after 9/11 things did change. We needed to justify ourselves almost a little bit. I remember I felt very afraid the next day even to show my face because there was such tension around. I mean, you know, I thought I would look Middle Eastern or something, but that's also paranoia you get, you know. It wasn't because something had happened to me, but I just felt very worried.

  • 11:41:36

    DELIJANIAnd I remember after that these, sort of -- these, sort of, not attacks, but even it could be jokes, you know, like, even toward my brother or so on. And we always tried to laugh it off, you know. You know, we'd -- it's not good to provoke or anything, but I did feel like there was a change that we did -- we were a little bit now different, that sometimes we could even pose a threat somehow or our country. And so I would say my adult age was different from my childhood.

  • 11:42:08

    REHMSo did people make direct comments to you or was it more something you sensed?

  • 11:42:15

    DELIJANIIt was -- no, something I sensed. I never had any direct comment, but, like, my brother if he grew his beard and if he hadn't shaved or something, I would (word?) they would -- they would call him, oh, Osama come here, you know, things like that, which is -- it could also be a joke, but it wasn't that pleasant, you know. So these were the things. So because of those little things one starts feeling a little bit not nervous, but somehow that you need to defend yourself -- that there could be a possible situation where you need to justify yourself for nothing, you know. And that's what I would say happened afterwards.

  • 11:42:52

    REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas good morning, Jim.

  • 11:42:56

    JIMWell, thank you, Diane, this is wonderful. My question is much of the culture of the Middle East is inherited from the Persian Empire. And I was curious to how she felt the Persians themselves, the Iranies, how much of their culture do they attribute to the advent of Islam in Iran? Thank you.

  • 11:43:27


  • 11:43:27


  • 11:43:29

    DELIJANIWell, I would say that, you know, now it's -- it's mixed. I mean I think when cultures sort of meet each other, either through war or through peace, they give -- there's give and take. So I'm sure the Persian Empire, like, 2,500 years ago, gave a lot to -- not only to the Middle East, but, I mean, to the world just like many other empires and civilizations at the time did. But at a certain point and when Islam came they brought in -- I mean they gave the alphabet we use, the Arabic alphabet, at that point. So I think it's a mix, and I'm not an expert, actually, I'm not a very good historian, but I believe that there is of that Persian culture in the Islamic culture and vice versa.

  • 11:44:16

    REHMAll right. To Wichita, Kan. hi, Rosa.

  • 11:44:20

    ROSAHi, Diane. First I want to tell you I love your program and I wish it was 24/7.

  • 11:44:26

    REHMOh, thank you.

  • 11:44:28

    ROSAAnd I want to congratulate Sahar. I am from Iran. I was the first relation, when I moved to this culture and so many children were sent to me and I just came before -- a few years before revolution happened. I just want to congratulate you and tell you, please, as much as you could, talk and be active anywhere you go. We need women like you. We need a lot of people, men and women, to talk about where they're coming from, how they experience life and how it should be so we could relate to each other better and try to respect each other and get along with each other. We need women as much as possible to write about their lives, especially Iranian women.

  • 11:45:14

    REHMUm-hum. Rosa, thank you.

  • 11:45:16

    DELIJANIOK, thank you (speaks foreign language).

  • 11:45:19


  • 11:45:20

    REHMThank you. Now in this second half of the book Neda and the other characters evolve. Tell us about their lives.

  • 11:45:34

    DELIJANIExactly. Yes, the second half of the novel is about those children who are now all grown up. And it's about their interpretation of what happened, their feelings about their parents' experience either before the revolution and afterwards. And how in the looking at that past and now looking at their present, because the second half revolves are the 2009 protests, and seeing everything repeating itself. What is their idea of making now their own history? What is their idea of the future of the country? Where they want to take the country, how they want to finish what was left undone, what was started by their parents and was left undone and sort of now it is their turn to turn history to their side in a way.

  • 11:46:28

    DELIJANISo -- but the interesting part was that while I was writing the first half of the novel all of that protest was happening in front of my eyes. So it was sort of an historical coincidence I couldn't ignore easily, but it was very heartwarming for me because when you were in Iran I always felt -- I mean my family and their friends -- we were part of the minority, you know, that who were always against the regime, who had fought against the regime since the beginning. The rest of the country -- I mean there were some who tolerated it. There were some who didn't think it was -- I mean, you know, of course, it's a big society so it's very mixed, but we did feel like a minority.

  • 11:47:10

    DELIJANIWhat happened was that now that the children were grown up all of the children from every side, from the minority or the majority side, from the government or the anti-government side were now on the streets together. And for me that's what the green movement was. It was, sort of, a national reconciliation for me in those days on those streets. And I didn't feel like -- if we were always on the wrong side of history they were now on the wrong side with us.

  • 11:47:37

    REHMNow after you went back, what did you feel?

  • 11:47:46

    DELIJANII felt like, oh, my God, I want to stay because I don't there's almost a daily struggle in Iran, you know. I mean even culturally every day, like, they want to find a way to fight what is limiting them culturally, politically, economically and so on. And that, to me, is amazing, that energy is amazing. And so that is my feeling. My feeling was that if this is the country that I see, if this is -- these are the people I know this country will change.

  • 11:48:22

    REHMWhat about the presence of the Taliban?

  • 11:48:25

    DELIJANIWell, the Taliban are not -- are not in Iran. They're in Afghanistan. In Iran there is a very hard liner fundamentalist government, but they're not like the Taliban. It's completely different from many points of view. I mean it's much more sophisticated than the Taliban because the Taliban were just -- I mean it was just a completely different way of thinking. And they're still there, but although this fundamentalist government is still there and it's telling everybody what to do at all times, you know. So there's also that.

  • 11:48:58

    DELIJANII mean when they tell people that you cannot drink alcohol and you cannot have party just to use as an example, people just, you know, buy really, really thick cartons and just cover everything and have the, you know, the biggest parties I've ever seen inside the house. So that's what I mean by that daily struggle.

  • 11:49:17

    REHMBut as you look at the young people and as you look at those who are in charge, I mean, is there a disconnect between the two?

  • 11:49:33

    DELIJANII think but not completely. I mean it's a disconnect as in they just don't want the same thing, you know. That government and their people want to be able to tell everybody what to do, want them -- want to stop Iran from culturally, especially, growing. They don't want people to read books coming from the outside, even from inside Iran. Books get censored, they don't get permission to be published -- movies and so on. And on the other side the young people just have had about enough.

  • 11:50:06

    DELIJANIAnd internet has helped a lot. So anything you will see and read outside of Iran they get it all. They get it before us. And that was the amazing part. I could talk about film, any TV series even, that, you know, we watched in America or in Italy and they knew all about it. And there are all these discussions about "Lost," for example, on Facebook, you know. So their world is another world. By now, I think even it's too late, you know. That's why this government cannot survive so much. I don't know how long. Maybe they'll survive another ten years, but already it's over for them culturally.

  • 11:50:44

    REHMAs you were writing this book did you talk to family members and did they have any concerns about your writing it revealing what was going on, feeling that you could be putting not only yourself, but them in some sort of danger by the long arm of Iran?

  • 11:51:12

    DELIJANISure. Yes, I did speak to my parents about the book. I mean I wanted to write, actually, the two chapters that are based on, specifically on their experience. And my mom was worried. It was very difficult for my mom to talk about it. I mean it was a very traumatic experience being, you know, being pregnant in prison.

  • 11:51:31

    REHMOh, I should say.

  • 11:51:31

    DELIJANIIt's not even the easiest thing.

  • 11:51:32

    REHMI should say.

  • 11:51:34

    DELIJANIBut it was -- she was also worried -- she's always been worried for us that somehow what happened to them could happen to us somehow. It's always been in the back of her mind. But you know the fact is that it was such a painful experience and they lived it in silence, you know, during and after. They never talked about it. I mean my father lost a 27-year-old brother of his without ever being able to even see the body, you know. So at that point there's almost a sense of you don't care. You're not afraid anymore. You've just lost so much that you -- the idea was let's get the world to know this. And so when the -- this book had such reception, you know, being published all around the world.

  • 11:52:19

    REHMAll over the world.

  • 11:52:21

    DELIJANIYes, yes. So that is the biggest satisfaction. Not because it's a success, which is, of course, just a magnificent thing, but that this story, this huge tragedy that happened and was so long buried exactly like those bodies is now out in the open. And I think everyone is very happy about that.

  • 11:52:42

    REHMAnd do you think your mother was able to get over her fears?

  • 11:52:49

    DELIJANIYeah, that's a very interesting thing, actually, yes. What happened was that finally after many times she told me about it and she got over her fear while it was a process. And the most amazing part was that in the beginning I mean she would just say a little bit. Then that night she would have nightmares and she couldn't talk about it anymore. Then once we got to the end of it and once, especially she read it, she said to me I have many more stories to tell you.

  • 11:53:19


  • 11:53:20

    DELIJANIAnd that was, for me, that was the success of the book.

  • 11:53:23

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Mahi in Harrisburg, Pa. good morning to you.

  • 11:53:34

    MAHIGood morning, Diane, I'm a long time listener and today is the first chance that I have to talk to you. I really enjoy your show.

  • 11:53:40

    REHMI'm so glad. Thank you.

  • 11:53:41

    MAHIThank you very much. I'm teaching in a university close to you and I'm following the Iran situation. I'm part of the green movement in Iran. And I really have to admire the job that Sahar has done. And the reason I'm saying this because at that age with that experience somebody comes out of Iran usually they are bitter about, you know, their experience, but Sahar has done a wonderful job to pass those things, to become passionate about, you know, the experience that she had is really very admirable.

  • 11:54:23

    MAHIElection in Iran, as Sahar, of course, referred to it, perhaps this is another discussion, many in the West tried, you know, to discredit it, but I follow, of course, and I support what, you know, Sahar has said. That election was not an ordinary election in a sense that was a silent revolution, that was a referendum. And if you ask anybody in the Iranian street today why they voted they voted -- they say they voted for moderation and against radicalism. And that is a huge thing.

  • 11:54:55

    REHMA huge thing.

  • 11:54:57

    DELIJANIHuge thing, yes, thank you so much (speaks foreign language) for your message. Yeah, I, you know, because this- this, sort of, passion, which is true that I do have very much for Iran, is -- I've learned it from my parents that, you know, despite all their experiences they still want us to, you know, be Iranians and learn about Iran and learn about the culture. And then later on from the Iranians that despite everything they just have so much love for their country. And I think Iran is a different story from its government, you know.

  • 11:55:29

    REHMAnd yet now you're living in Italy.

  • 11:55:33


  • 11:55:33

    REHMWith your husband.

  • 11:55:35


  • 11:55:36

    REHMWhat about the economic sanctions to what extent are they reaching the people and not those in charge?

  • 11:55:50

    DELIJANIThey're reaching very much to people. It's a very, very sad thing that is happening in Iran. I mean I hear this through conversations with friends and also the news. And something that I just thought, okay, this is wrong was that I found out through friends and then later on was confirmed through the news that people who are cancer patients don't have medication anymore. And that, to me, is just wrong. And no matter the entire country -- I mean with economics and there's so much going on right now and it's such a -- and it's such a dire situation, but when I heard that I thought, okay, there's something wrong with the way they're doing this.

  • 11:56:35

    REHMSo do you believe there's hope for negotiation?

  • 11:56:42

    DELIJANII hope that there's hope for negotiations and I think there should be now. I mean, you know, I don't -- you know, the Iranians are idealists and realistic at the time. And I don't think that, oh, now it's going to be all, you know, pretty and we are going to get around a table and talk, but I do think just one little door has opened.

  • 11:57:02

    REHMI hope you're right. Sahar Delijani her brand new novel, it's been published all over the world, but I assume not in Iran.

  • 11:57:16


  • 11:57:17

    REHMIt's titled "Children of the Jacaranda Tree." Congratulations.

  • 11:57:23

    DELIJANIThank you so much.

  • 11:57:24

    REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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