Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran [NOOK Book]


In our current climate of war and suspicion, Iran is depicted as the "next" rogue nation that America and the world must "deal with." But the rhetoric about nuclear weapons and jihad obscures the real Iran: an ancient nation and culture, both sophisticated and isolated, which still exists clandestinely in major cities as well as the country's remote mountains and deserts.

Jason Elliot has spent the last four years traveling in Iran, and in this remarkable book he reveals the ...

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Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran

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In our current climate of war and suspicion, Iran is depicted as the "next" rogue nation that America and the world must "deal with." But the rhetoric about nuclear weapons and jihad obscures the real Iran: an ancient nation and culture, both sophisticated and isolated, which still exists clandestinely in major cities as well as the country's remote mountains and deserts.

Jason Elliot has spent the last four years traveling in Iran, and in this remarkable book he reveals the many sides of the culture, art, architecture, and people that Westerners cannot see or conveniently ignore. Part close reading of symbols and images, part history, and part intimate interviews with Iranians of many different kinds--from wealthy aristocrats at forbidden parties to tribal horsemen in the most remote mountain villages, who have never seen a Westerner--Mirrors of the Unseen is a beautiful and thought-provoking book by one of the world's most acclaimed adventurers and authors.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Every decade or so, Iran pops onto our front pages, but for many of us, this faraway country remains as mysterious as ever. Jason Elliot, the author of The Unexpected Light, has spent four years living and traveling in Iran, visiting towns and villages where Western visitors are seldom seen. Mirrors of the Unseen illuminates the complexities and contradictions of this emergent yet insular society. His interviews with Iranians are interspersed with telling reflects on Iranian history, culture, and social norms.
Christopher e Bellaigue
Coming near the end of the book, his sprawling, ebullient discussion of the subject repays a close reading. His depiction of the “artist as intermediary,” rendering up his perfection to the glory of God, in reflection of heaven as depicted in the Koran, is especially appropriate to Iranian architecture. The antique Persian idea of the afterworld as a garden, when interpreted by the tile-makers of the Islamic era, turned mosques from mere places of worship into simulacra of paradise.
— The New York Times
The New Yorker
In this penetrating account of a series of journeys to Iran, Elliot reports on the “double life” of the Persians he meets, who unanimously denounce the ruling mullahs. One insists that you’re nobody in Iran if you haven’t been imprisoned; another rolls his eyes at the author’s obsessive trawling of mosques, protesting, “People will think I’m with a fanatic.” The book is replete with historical arcana (such as the second-century Parthian tactic of catapulting jars of bloodsucking flies at enemies), ruminations on the “turbulent calligraphies” of Islamic architecture, and labyrinthine footnotes that threaten to leap off into tomes of their own. Elliot is a travel writer of the old school: untethered to an itinerary, eager to be led astray, and as ardent an observer of the experience of travelling as of his destination.
Publishers Weekly
Elliot (An Unexpected Light) traveled to Iran and returned with this finely detailed, timely portrait of a country and culture precariously balanced between East and West, dark and light, integration and Armageddon. Whether careening around the smog and traffic clogged capital city of Tehran in a battered cab or crawling through the rubble-strewn ruins of Persepolis, capital of the ancient Persian kings, Elliot's keen eye, supple mind and compelling way with words captures the rich, complex, contradictory essence of Iran, its history and people. Everywhere he travels, Elliot explores a central question will Iran, a country with a deep and abiding history of scientific innovation, fine art, high culture and beauty, step into modernity or will the revolutionary mullahs, the guardians and promoters of Islamic fundamentalism, take the country further down the road of isolation. In the cities, a culture of duality exists behind closed doors, liquor flows freely, music is enjoyed and women are free to express themselves fully. On the streets, however, religious extremism rules, manifested by squads of bearded enforcers looking out for infractions of their version of Islamic law. With Iran so central in the news, this is a good read for the armchair traveler and amateur geo-political strategist alike. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Elliot's first book, An Unexpected Light, was an account of his two sojourns in Afghanistan and was widely acclaimed as a new classic in travel writing. Despite the shared border, Iran is extremely unlike Afghanistan; it has been a world cultural center where exquisite arts, poetry, and philosophy flourished for centuries. Elliot gamely splices references to this heritage into his narrative and acknowledges (but does not cite) the many travel writers who have already covered this ground. Except for his particular enthusiasm for the geometric secrets of Isfahan, however, Elliot's heart does not seem to be in history. He is in his element when having sincere, often witty conversations about everything from faith to foreign policy with a remarkably wide range of people. These conversations are interspersed with a running gag about the diverse methods used by taxi drivers to overcharge him. Elliot offers distinctive portraits of Iranians living in complex political times. Recommended for public and academic libraries with travel collections. Lisa Klopfer, Eastern Michigan Univ. Lib., Ypsilanti Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Does Iran belong on the list of rogue nations? Absolutely not, British journalist Elliot urges in this virtuoso work. True, its government is wacky. But Iran, despite mullahs and religious police, is not monolithic, as the author discovers early on in his four-year journey across the vast nation; says one weary beauty he meets (one of many), "Here in Iran we lead a double life. . . . Understand that, and you will understand everything." Yet younger Iranians born long after the Khomeini revolution seem less and less inclined to toe the line, and even older ones with long memories of repression now seem intent on securing azadi-freedom. Elliot (An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, 2000) cannot help but address politics, for political matters are on everyone's lips. But his real interests lie in the culture, in the sense of both everyday life and the finer matters of history and the arts. One of his explorations takes him into traditional art, which he puzzles out at different turns ("it is difficult to suppose that an art as prolific and expert as that of the Islamic world was driven by no more than a desire to impress the eye alone"), eventually linking it to the mysteries of mathematics, at which the Persians once excelled. Though fascinated by the past, the author has a knack for meeting characters, often eccentric, who tell just the right stories: an American expatriate quietly breeding miniature horses thought extinct; a brilliant conversationalist recalling the day an Iraqi missile crashed through the roof of her Tehran kitchen; assorted taxi drivers, hoteliers and intellectuals revealing essential aspects of the national character. What the reader learns of Iran is mostlypositive, but by no means sugar-coated; some of the adventures presented here are for the stout-hearted only. A tempering treatise, one hopes, for those rushing to make war on Iran-and an education for those trying to stop them.
From the Publisher

"A penetrating account of a series of journeys to Iran. . . . Jason Elliot is a travel writer of the old school: untethered to an itinerary, eager to be led astray, and as ardent an observer of the experience of traveling as of his destination."--The New Yorker

"An important look at the forces at play in a region starting to dominate the Middle East."--The Star-Ledger (Newark)

"Armchair travelers will enjoy moving with Elliot through both fabled cities and remote corners of Iran."--The Christian Science Monitor

"A work of profound thought, imagination, passion, and ambition. It should be widely read."--The Guardian (U.K.)

"Whatever stereotypes we may have crumble in the wake of Elliot's encounters with ordinary Iranians. . . . Mirrors of the Unseen takes us into a very different Iran, and the journey is fabulous. . . . Elliot writes like an angel."--The Providence Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466837829
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,343,754
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Jason Elliot lives in London. Mirrors of the Unseen is his second book.

Jason Elliot is the author of An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, which was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in London.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 2, 2008

    Excellent book, rather romantic but highly erudite, terribly soft on the Persians, enamoured of Iran's past glories, exaggerated attribution of Iran to world culture even if partially true. Avoids todays realities & politics.

    This is a great read for those who worship Iran's past glories and believes Iran - its empires and leaders, artists and intellectuals, were the prime movers of Western and much of Esastern civilizations. The authhor also sheds light on Persian Islamic architecture. At times, however, the author gets carried away; objectivity is nowhere strongly evident in his descriptions of Iran's past glories.<BR/><BR/>The author presents his journey in too easy and positive a light, portraying Iranians everywhere as supportive, absolutely friendly and brimming with hospitality and friendship. This appears to be overstated<BR/><BR/>There is also the unavoidable unplesant pitfall as for many of those who come from this millieu in Britain, apparently: a sleazy seam of racism: as in the description of his meeting up with a Jewish shopowner, whom he describes as greedy, voracious and dishonest, without telling us anything about the religion or racial background of the others who cheated him in his travels, and whom he indulgently forgives. There is also a factual error in his description of the Jewish propher Daniel's tomb, whom the Persians revere, he says (the implication being: in spite of his Jewishness). He cannot avoid a sly comment on the improbability of Israeli parallels. For his information - and that of his readers: the prophet Daniel is considered by the Shiá as having predicted the appearance of the prohpet Ali, which, by reflection, cannonizes Daniel. Yet the tomb bears almost no mention of the Jewish tradition, the tombstone itself is a Persian-Arabic inscribed marble. As opposed to this, there are no Muslim prophets in Israel who predicted the appearance of any Jewish prophets. Rather, the traditional tombs of King David and others are open to Muslims and Christians; The Muslims hardly ever visit them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2010

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