I joined my fellow members and attenders at Meeting after a pleasant
summer, they admired my deep tan.
"Have you been traveling?" they
"No," I replied, "just swimming at a nearby
park." What I neglected to tell them was that I had spent the
summer traveling through IranĖand all for only a dollar. Actually, I
never left the U.S., but delved deep into Iranian culture with the help
of British author Jason Elliot, whose book, Mirrors of the Unseen.
chronicles his journeys through this little known and misunderstood
I discovered 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
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
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.
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