Reviews: Children of the Jacaranda Tree & The Book Thief

Children of the Jacaranda Tree (Audio CD) by Sahar Delijani
Narrated by Mozhan Marno

Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a part-fiction, part-memoir narrative set against the backdrop of the  Iran-Iraq War, in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011. It tells the stories of three generations of Iranians, struggling against their homeland’s fundamentalist regime. The older generation endures imprisonment and executions for political activism up to the 1979 revolution. Azar gives birth in Evin Prison, only to have her daughter taken away abruptly months later. Leila sacrifices love to care for the children of her imprisoned sisters. A pair of political activist parents was arrested before their three-year-old toddler. Years later, the second generation picks up the pieces in a country they don’t recognise. The next generation grows up in fear and insecurity as a new wave of protest and political strife begins, desperately seeking solace, and for some, change.

The author Delijani was born in Evin Prison. Her mother had been imprisoned there, and one of her uncles was executed. Writing from personal experience and in-depth interviews with her family members, she is able to vividly capture the unbreakable bonds between parent and child, and her fellow countrymen’s passionate dedication to their mother- land in spite of its flaws. The author narrates with lyrical prose and well-used metaphors and symbolism. Listening to the audio, it is literally music to the ears. The novel is a real eye-opener to the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, whose country many of us only know for its military unrests.

The stories of each of the main characters are touching and thought-evoking. However, they have not been strung together well, causing the overall plot to be disjointed and loose, which is a pity. Rather than having a compelling plot to carry the weight of the heavy subject matter, it becomes a series of related stories. Additionally, some of the narrative lacks essential information and description, leaving voids for the discerning listener / reader. For someone who has had first-hand experience in the subject matter, it is disappointing when the descriptions lack substance.

However, for anyone who wants a detailed perspective of suffering in Iran, or just about any country or time period under a repressive regime, this is an interesting read. Despite the grim themes of tragedy and suffering, it also speaks of survival and hope.

The Book Thief (DVD),  Produced by: Karen Rosenfelt, Ken Blancato
Screenplay by Michael Petroni  Directed by Brian Percival

For those who don’t always have time to catch new releases in the cinemas, the library is a free source of high-quality recordings of popular movies as well as carefully~selected less mainstream gems like The Book Thief.

Based on Mark Zusak’s novel of the same name, The Book Thief is set in World War II Germany. A young girl Liesel is travelling by train to a foster family in a small town. Her brother dies along the way, and while attending his burial at a cemetery, picks up a stray book and pockets it despite being illiterate. Her adoptive father encourages her to learn to read, and her love affair with books begins, prompting her to resort to risky means to fulfil her desire to read, including taking books from a mayor’s home, and rescuing a book from a Nazi book burning ceremony. She also uses her new found literacy to read to Max, a Jew whom her step family is harbouring in their basement, subsequently helping him to recover from his illness.

Following her life, viewers see, from the perspective of a preadolescent girl, war on the home front in Germany including the usage of propaganda tactics, Nazi rallies and Hitler Youth groups, daylight bombing, persecution of Jews amongst many other events. Though surviving the war herself, Liesel goes through the tragedy of losing her loved ones, right from the beginning of the story when her communist mother had to leave her children for their safety. Nevertheless, it is one of the few war time stories based in Nazi Germany that maintains light-hearted moments of childish innocence, whereby the protagonist survives to tell the story. As such, it may perhaps go down better with younger viewers and those with a weak heart for tragedies.

On the other hand, critics complain that the movie makes light of a very tragic and sombre period, and the incorporation of a supernatural being – an angel of death as the movie’s narrator, gives it an awkward touch of shallowness. Nevertheless, for all its shortcomings, this film features beautiful photography, an emotive music score and skilful acting by the main cast. Viewers who are not insistent on a strong storyline that is capable of carrying the weight of the Nazi era should find this an entertaining watch.

– These reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

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