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.
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.