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Mirrors of the Unseen:
Journeys in Iran

by Jason Elliot
Picador  ISBN-10: 0312427336

Mirrors of the Unseen by Jason Elliot, a book about journeys in Iran.I discovered Jason Elliotís book quite by accident as I waited in line at my local dollar store. As I waited for the person in front of me to run her credit card through the scanner, my eyes wandered over to a display of books, mostly mysteries and failed biographies. Sitting there amongst these nondescript volumes lay Mirrors of the Unseen. Something about its cover drew me to give up my place in a long line to investigate. I turned the book over to read the publisherís blurb on the back and discovered that the printer had mistakenly printed the description of Elliotís first book, An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, a New York Times best seller. Thus, the reason his latest had been delegated to a place in the dollar store.

Elliotís book details not only the arts and politics of the country that was formerly part of the Persian empire, but also gives the reader an insight into the practices of Islam. Whether arguing with a cab driver of a battered taxi after battling the smog and traffic clogged capital city of Tehran or crawling through the rubble-strewn ruins of ancient civilizations, Elliot's keen eye captures the rich, complex, and often contradictory essence of Iran.

In Iranís cities, he discovers a culture of duality existing behind closed doors where liquor flows freely, and music fills the air as both men and women express themselves freely. But out in the streets religious extremism rules, enforced by bearded guards on the lookout for those disobeying Islamic law.

Elliot also takes his readers to small towns and remote villages on the Iran-Iraq boarder where life, itself, is one of survival. He goes inside Iranian homes and visits and sometimes stays with the people who own them, gaining a further insight into the complexities of this society.

The bookís strong point is Elliotís engaging observations as he travels around the countryside. And though he knows Iranian history and culture, he canít express that knowledge very well as he tries to weave together his observations of life in contemporary Iran with history, politics, and the secrets of Islamic art.

He writes beautifully about the culture, with its mosques and bazaars and fascinating people. Unfortunately, all this beauty comes at a price. It seems Elliot, like so many writers, assumes all readers have his extensive vocabulary. He seems to cater to the New Yorker crowd, who think writing is good when itís filled with $20 wordsĖcomplex words that replace the more familiar ones known to most readers. Because of this many readers will get the gist of what Elliotís saying, but will miss some of the nuances. And though the book is rich in observed images, it plods along paths littered with unknown words which make it a very difficult read.

Buy this book...


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