I finished Jason Elliot’s book about Iran, Mirrors of the Unseen. It was hard work but rewarding.
I bought the book because I really liked Elliot’s An Unexpected Light about the history, culture, and daily life of Afghanistan back when the mujahideen were still fighting the Soviets. (I’m reasonably sure that Tony Kushner’s prophetic play Homebody/Kabul was partially based on that book.)
Mirrors of the Unseen is a challenging read at times because it is very intellectual. It has lots of words and history and concepts that were new to me, but it also has wonderful stories about the ordinary people Elliot met. Even though he wrote it a few years before the the June 20, 2009, Green Revolution, you can get a sense of the attitudes of normal Iranians and what might have led to the unsuccessful revolt.
Elliot does not focus on politics, but rather on Persian art and architecture, which inspired him at a deep level.
I was reading a passage to my friend Claire on the train, and she said, “No wonder it has taken so long to read! It’s poetry!”
So for my last post on the book, I will give a few examples of Elliot’s style. He describes some English tourists as looking “very sad, and it seemed quite likely they had arrived in Iran by accident, like fish that are said to be swept up in hailstones and deposited hundreds of miles away.”
As he travels toward the southern part of Tehran toward the train station, “the surroundings grew steadily more decrepit, as if an old witch was being shed of her make-up.” And the train itself “had the air of a dragon straining at its leash.”
Here’s my favorite, from a discussion of whether the fascination that all religions seem to have with flame is passed from ancient cultures to modern or is something innate in humans: “Had the sanctity of flame erupted irresistibly into human consciousness as mysteriously as the hexagon into the intelligence of the bee?”