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Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran Paperback – September 25, 2001

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In 1979, a clerical revolution in Iran swept aside the inarguably corrupt government of Shah Reza Pahlavi and set in motion events that would make that nation a world pariah. In the place of one dictatorship came another, one led "by an old bearded cleric in a turban and cloak whose answer to the king's injustice was to wrap the country in a populist message of promise and smother it with an intolerant version of Islam."

So writes Elaine Sciolino, a reporter for The New York Times who entered Iran with the Ayatollah Khomeini and who remained there for more than 20 years, providing American readers with memorable accounts that were less, it seemed, about politics and religion than about human nature. For Iran is a mass of contradictions, she writes, a country many of whose leaders press for forward-looking change while serving a government that seeks a return to the distant past, and whose citizens constantly seek ways to experiment "with two highly volatile chemicals--Islam and democracy." In her book, Sciolino travels the length and breadth of Iran, interviewing national leaders and citizens, turning up stories of resistance and accommodation that are at once hopeful and cautious. (For instance, she writes, "Personal expression is entirely possible in Iran. You just have to be careful when and where you engage in it, and you have to be ready for nasty surprises when the rules change.")

Iran has been overlooked for too long, Sciolino suggests. Her book, both sympathetic and critical, makes a useful guide for those outside the country who seek to understand it better. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The co-existence of government-proscribed anti-Americanism and societal ambivalence towards the U.S. often produces a schizophrenic attitude among Iranians, and Americans in Iran are forever surprised to find people eager to talk to them, even in the midst of a seething mass of flag burners. Common observation concludes that there are two faces of Iran; deeper familiarity shows a far more multi-faceted country. New York Times reporter Sciolino's intimacy with Iran is precisely as old as its revolution. In February 1979, she was a member of a planeload of journalists accompanying the Ayatollah Khomeini as the recorders of history (and, more pragmatically, as a human shield), when the Supreme Leader returned from exile to a country in the throes of revolution. As the nightmare of the 444-day hostage crisis horrified Americans, Sciolino observed mundane daily life outside the besieged embassy's gates. She remembers a vendor on the corner who shouted "Death to Carter. Eat eggs." Over the course of two decades, Sciolino interviewed the leading political, religious and intellectual figures of Iran. More enticingly, she constructs her portrait of Iran around the personal histories of the many ordinary Iranians who fed her curiosity, fascination and affinity for their culture. Though she makes no pretense towards political predictions, Sciolino clearly sees the writing on the wall. Iran is a country "too complex to remain confined in a revolutionary straitjacket forever." Author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (September 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743217799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743217798
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,627,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elaine Sciolino is a contributing writer and former Paris bureau chief at The New York Times, having previously served as the newspaper's chief diplomatic correspondent and United Nations bureau chief. She is the author of La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life, as well as the award-winning Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran. Her new book, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs, will be published by W.W. Norton & Co. in November 2015. In 2010, she was decorated a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. She lives in Paris with her husband.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Afshin Molavi on December 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Elaine Sciolino has written an exquisite, penetrating, savvy book about a much misunderstood country. As a fellow journalist who has covered Iran (post-1997), I can assure readers that Ms. Sciolino's reporting on Iran's democracy movement is accurate, balanced, and insightful. Of course, that is what we would expect from her. More importantly, however, I think her book's importance lies in the voices of Iranians woven throughout the narrative. She casts a wide net in gathering these voices -- we hear from hard-liners, pro-democracy students, traditional clerics, secular dissidents, artists, young people, war veterans, economic have-nots, wealthy barons, and the leading voices in Iran's growing pro-democracy movement. Ms. Sciolino also opened windows onto the lives of Iranian women that are hard for male journalists to penetrate. The constellation of voices heard throughout her book makes it extremely valuable for any reader interested in Iranian affairs.
Iran is a complex society and country. It is an old land that does not lend itself easily to interpretation. Iran has fooled many Western journalists before and will continue to fool them again. Ms. Sciolino does not fall into the usual traps. On those occasions when she interprets Iranian culture, she does it well, a fruit of 20-plus years of consistent reporting on the country.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in going beyond the headlines of Iranian affairs and journeying with a correspondent that clearly displays an empathy and understanding for the people she covers. This is a nice journey into Iran with a good travel partner, who is knowledgeable, sometimes cheeky, entertaining, and sympathetic. I highly commend Chapters 9 and 12.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jana L. Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Elaine Sciolino, now a senior writer in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, has probably more experience covering Iran than any other American journalist and has reported on events there for over two decades. As a former foreign correspondent for Newsweek Magazine, Ms. Sciolino was aboard the airplane that brought the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Teheran in 1979. In fact, she knowingly risked her life on the trip as the plane was under threat of being shot down by the Iranian air force. The Shah's generals had devised a plan to shoot down the plane and presented the details to President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor. The Carter administration wanted no part of it. She was present for the Iranian revolution, the American hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war and many other important events, including the riots of 1999. She writes, "I never went to Iran for the night life. I went for a revolution, a war, and an embassy seizure. And I kept going back." Through Iranian colleagues, friends and political contacts, she has had much access to Iranian life on all levels, and her keen observations provide an accurate source of information on this complex society, its people and its politics. In "Persian Mirrors" she maps the cultural, political, and social history of Iran since its Islamic Revolution.
The book contains hard-news, but Sciolino's mission was to write "a portrait of my own encounters with Iran, and with the Iranian people, in the hope it can illuminate whatever choices or predictions others make." The memoir is organized by topic.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Parvin Darabi on January 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What the writer wanted us to understand was that women can still have a life under oppression so they should just live this life.I felt that the writer was sympathetic to the Mullahs and their families. Most of the women she had interviewed were from the rulling class. And I was astund when she called Azam Taleghani a defender of women's rights. Azam Taleghani in an interview with Marie Claire magazine in Spring of 1997 in an article by Jan Goodwin stated that "if my own daughter commits adultry I ask for her death with stoning, the law is the law." The book is not real.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By John Paul Rosario on October 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Elaine Sciolino has done a fine job with this book. What a lot of people tend not to realise about Iran is that the vast majority of its population is under the age of thirty, and that most of them are women, who are either highly educated or are in the process of becoming highly educated. Given this fact, I think the west needs to look beyond the chador and the hejab. A highly educated populace, even when it exists in a theocracy like Iran, can have a far greater impact on the future of any region. This one facet of Iranian demographics should give many nations, including the United States, some pause. Iran's leaders would do well to also take careful notice of its young population. In a few more years, Iran may become a power to be reckoned with in the region, and Ms. Sciolino is quite eloquent in making this fact clear. "Persian Mirrors" is easily the equal to Robin Wright's "The Last Revolution" published last year.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Chris Schlefstein on October 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For the last twenty years America's relations with Iran have been strained to say the least. Among the most enduring images is the glowering face of Ayatollah Khomenei. Certainly, it has always been easier to potray Iran, a country that loudly calls the US "The Great Satan, as a land filled with fanatic fundamentalists that repress their women and continually threaten the tenuous stability of the entire Middle East.
However, after reading Ms Sciolino's highly recommended book, one will walk away with much more balanced, and indeed, positive view of a country that is more than simply the first Islamic state. As the author shows us, the history of Iran and Persia stratches back for thousands of years.
Ms Sciolino was literally there from the beginning. Her description of those wild few days when the Ayatollah left Paris and returned to Iran are thrilling. The imagery was so vivid, and I could picture myself standing by her side as the airplane doors opened in Tehran to hundreds of thousands of Iranians waiting for the return of their spiritual leader. She ably describes her thrill at being there, but also the fear. What would happen when the door opened? Even earlier, would the US shoot down the plan (apparently something actually contemplated!)? The city was in total chaos and tension comes through clearly. Ms Sciolino does a wonderful job of reconstructing the past 20 years of Iranian history. As a NY Times reporter, the majority of her writing is from first hand experience.
It seems she has meet virtually everyone of any significance in Iran. However, she is able to share so much more with us than simple facts that can be found anywhere. We go with her inside the current president's house. We meet his family.
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