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Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iranby Elaine Sciolino
Synopses & Reviews
For westerners, few countries are as little understood — or flat out misunderstood — as Iran. This is not entirely our fault. After the 1979 revolution, public relations took a bit of a plunge on the Iranian priority list, so accurate information about what has been going on behind the headlines, and why, has been scarce at best. Iran is, after all, the world's only theocracy, and the cleric-controlled government has made it difficult for outside visitors to enter the country, let alone to explore it freely. One of the few westerners who has had extensive experience in post-revolution Iran is Elaine Sciolino, former correspondent and bureau chief for Newsweek. Sciolino has been so close to the political events that have shaped modern Iran, which she describes as "one of the most dynamic and exciting countries in the world," she was even on the plane with the Ayatollah Khomeini when he made his triumphal return to Tehran in 1979. She spent a great deal of time over the next two decades interviewing dozens of government officials as well as countless ordinary citizens on the street (and not a few behind closed doors). Today Sciolino is considered one of America's foremost authorities on Iranian politics and culture. She also happens to be an elegant writer and lively storyteller. Her portrait of Iran from the 1979 revolution through the late nineties has been unanimously hailed one of the most insightful, and enjoyable, popular books on the topic. However, Persian Mirrors is much more than political, religious, social, or economic analysis, though it is all of these. It is foremost an attempt to capture at a particular moment in time one of the world's most ancient cultures as it struggles to determine its relationship to modernity. Farley, Powells.com
No American reporter has more experience covering Iran or more access to the private corners of Iranian society than Elaine Sciolino. As a correspondent for Newsweek and The New York Times, she has reported on the key events of the past two decades. She was aboard the airplane that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Tehran in 1979; she was there for the Iranian revolution, the hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, the rise of President Mohammad Khatami, and the riots of the summer of 1999.
In Persian Mirrors, Sciolino takes us into the public and private spaces of Iran — the bazaars, beauty salons, aerobics studios, courtrooms, universities, mosques, and the presidential palace — to capture the vitality of a society so often misunderstood by Americans. She demystifies a country of endless complexity where, on the streets, women swathe themselves in black and, behind high walls, they adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry; where the laws of Islam are the law of the land, and yet the government advertises as tourist attractions the ruins of the pre-Islamic imperial capital at Persepolis and the synagogue where Queen Esther is said to be buried; and where even the most austere clerics recite sensual romantic poetry, insisting that it refers to divine, and not earthly, love. Iran is also a place with a dark side, where unpredictable repression is carried out, officially and unofficially, by forces intent on maintaining power and influence.
Sciolino deftly uses her travels throughout Iran and her encounters with its people to portray the country as an exciting, daring laboratory where experiments with two highly volatile chemicals — Islam and democracy — are being conducted.
Like the mirror mosaics found in Iran's royal palaces and religious shrines, there is more to the whole of the country than the fragments revealed to outsiders. Persian Mirrors captures this elusive Iran. Sciolino paints in astonishing detail and rich color the surprising inner life of this country, where a great battle is raging, not for control over territory but for the soul of the nation.
"Elaine Sciolino...illuminates Iran's seductive contradictions — its ardent, grim faith and the hospitality, irreverence and mirth of its people." The Wall Street Journal
"Vivid reporting combines with perceptive insights in this fascinating venture behind the distorting mirrors. An important book." Kirkus Reviews
"Perceptive...deep and wide-ranging insights...Iran is not easy to know well, but Sciolino knows it intimately." The New York Times
"American readers need a book like Persian Mirrors...Sciolino gives readers a ringside seat at history." Chicago Tribune
"Complex and nuanced...An intimate, inside account." Diane Johnson, The New York Times Book Review
"Few observers are as equipped to report on present day (but not modern) Iran as Elaine Sciolino." The Washington Times
"Insightful and gutsy reporting." William Safire, The New York Times Magazine
"No American reporter knows Iran better than Elaine Sciolino. This is a captivating, intimate, sensitive, finespun journey through the contradictions of the Iranian revolution, and the new order it created. Her insights will make you wonder why we begin a new century still so out of touch with such a fascinating place." Peter Jennings, ABC News
"Elaine Sciolino shows a different Iran. More than 20 years of visits, interviews, encounters and analyses have given Ms. Sciolino, a senior correspondent in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, her deep and wide-ranging insights. Her perceptive book Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran conveys the diversity of Iranians and the subtleties, dilemmas and contradictions of their society today...First and foremost, Ms. Sciolino shows Iranians as human beings trying to cope with an unusual and very difficult situation. For this wise perspective the reader is grateful." Ira Lapidus, New York Times
"With Persian Mirrors, Elaine Sciolino has lifted the veil to let readers see — and understand — the elusive face of Iran. The fruits of more than twenty years of penetrating reporting are evident here in this sensitive and perceptive book that illuminates Iran's old and new orders. She has helped make this foreign country more familiar, delivering a clear-eyed analysis that is both enlightening and entertaining." Katherine Graham, The Washington Post
"Elaine Sciolino has written a timely, informative, and highly entertaining account of Iran in the last twenty years, a period which offers a mixture of revolutionary fervor, religious zeal, and democratic ferment seldom matched in modern history. Her book not only offers us a view into the processes of Iranian life — and in particular, the lives of women — but is also a real historical contribution. All readers interested in the wider contemporary world should give themselves the pleasure of reading Persian Mirrors." Roy P. Mottahedeh, Gurney Professor of History, Harvard University
"With skillful curiousity, elaine Sciolino takes us through the looking glass into the private warrens of Iran's intricate society. There, at the intersection of the personal, the religious, and the political, she shatters our worst stereotypes of Iran by turning her sensitive eye to the currents of individualism and democratic yearning that course through the country. Nobody will come away from this superb book thinking about Iran the same way." David K. Shipler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Arab and Jew
A top "New York Times" reporter paints in astonishing detail and rich color the surprising hidden inner life of Iran, where a great battle is raging not for control over territory but for the very soul of the nation. "A captivating, intimate, sensitive, finespun journey through the contradictions of the Iranian revolution and the new order it created".--Peter Jennings.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -385) and index.
About the Author
Elaine Sciolino is a senior writer in the Washington bureau of The New York Times and has also served as chief diplomatic correspondent, intelligence correspondent, and United Nations bureau chief. A former foreign correspondent and bureau chief for Newsweek, she has interviewed all the key leaders in Iran since its revolution. She is also the author of The Outlaw State: Saddam Hussein's Quest for Power and the Gulf Crisis. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Washington, D.C.
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