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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 12 April 2008
Being half Iranian and having travelled through most of Iran I bought this book to remind myself of the journeys I've taken but not really thinking that I would learn much. How wrong I was. I was left wishing that I had read this book years before and had taken it with me when I had been in Iran as his attention to detail and knowledge of Iranian history, and the influence it has had on so much of the world is vast.

It was more than just a travel book to me, there were real gems of revelation studded throughout the book and although some parts did feel a little long-winded, it was captivating until the end. It has inspired me to look in more depth at Iranian art history and left me hoping to return to Iran with renewned interest and a lot more knowledge and appreciation of the culture and history.
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on 13 March 2017
very intereting.
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on 8 October 2007
I'm sure I've expressed these views before, here on the blog, but it often seems to me that the nineties were not good years for the emergence of new travel writers. But, since the start of the decade there have been a number of fine new travel writers emerge, and a number of them have recently produced the all-important second book.

Perhaps, one of the most accomplished of these writers in Jason Elliot. His accunt of travels around Afghanistan, An Unexpected Light, was put together during the safer years after the Taliban had been driven out and before they started the current conflict; it was a wonderful book.

Mirrors of the Unseen is the account of a number of trips to Iran, indeed, Elliott covers much of the country, including some of the more isolated regions that are ignored by Tehran.

This is travel writing of the highest order. Elliot stays with ordinary families, meets many interesting new-friends on his travels on gives us a good account of contemporary life in Iran. There are the sophisticated, and educated, families in Terhan and the traditional farmers who's lives give a glimpse of ancient cultures and civilisations. There is a lot of history as befits a book about one of the great cultures of all time. I knew that Persian intellectuals - mathematicians and scientists - had given us many of the discoveries and inventions that we take for granted. But I hadn't quite realised just how many there were. No wonder modern day Iran is so frustrated with the clichés trotted out by George Bush and his acolytes.

For much of the journey Elliot is following in the footsteps of Robert Byron who travelled in Persia and Afghanistan during the early part of the twentieth century. Byron's classic, The Road to Oxonia is often described as the first modern travel book - and indeed it is a fine book (and well worth hunting down itself). It is fascinating following Elliot, following Byron, not least because Jason's experiences and observations bear out the skill and dedication of Byron's work.

Although Elliot followed Byron he is no `heir' to Byron's style. Someone like Bruce Chatwin was an `heir' to Byron, not least in the way that it is often argued that Chatwin's greatest creation was his own character. Elliot, is less colourful but not less fascinating. Elliot, seems to me to be, to Colin Thubron what Chatwin was to Byron - and that's praise indeed.

Mirrors of the Unseen is a wonderful book. I shan't tell you too much about it as I don't want to spoil the fun. It is wise, warm and keenly observed. But it is also ground-breaking as Elliot manages to decipher the mysteries of some important and ancient architecture, that had puzzled all kinds of experts for hundreds of years.

If you like your travel literature then you'll love this
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on 19 March 2008
I got hold of an early review copy of this book, and weighing in at 500 pages, wonder if the final edition was sculpted down to size. Overall I really enjoyed it, with that sought after 'wish it wasn't finishing' feeling. It was certainly very eye opening about a nation sometimes demonised and certainly not widely known about. The history and former greatness stuff was fascinating, and the author's patient coverage of different eras gave some real depth and dimension to the way he approached Iran and interpreted what he found. My only word of warning (and reason for the 4 rather than 5 star rating) is that the book was in places like ploughing a field - hard work. Now frankly I'm game for such literary and factual exertion, but the armchair travel tome reader beware, there's a bunch of notes and digressions (my favourite footnote is a touchingly prolix passage in reference to his discussion on various genealogical links between different equine subspecies!)
Overall though, if you like a methodical, quasi-scholarly approach to travel investigations, this'll knock your detail oriented socks off. As I said, I enjoyed the journey and think he's a really entertaining writer with a real contribution to make.
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on 13 October 2007
I really enjoyed this book. It made me appreciate just how old the civilisation of Iran actually is, and made clear some of the differences between Iran and other Middle Eastern countries which are often lumped together. Elliot clearly knows and loves the country and its people and shows us how much more there is than the current superficial scare-mongering by politicians. What I found most heartening to read about was the humanity of the people Elliot met, their wish for peaceful co-existence with other people, and their rejection of the religious fundamentalists. They take the long view - the Shah came and went, and so will the current regime, while the Iranians and their history and culture will remain.
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on 31 August 2010
Mirrors of the Unseen is intriguing. The effect on me was to go to "Cheap Ticket" and look for the price of a ticket to Isfahan, and that was only halfway through the book. (but then there was a negative travel advice out, issued just the day before.)
It is a confrontation with ones own, not even known, deep and at the same time rather simple western prejudices about Iran, but especially about Islam and Islam art/architecture. And sciences.
It reads like a thriller and is well written, entertaining and touching and funny.
I immediately ordered the first book of Jason Elliot, (An Unexpected Light) which was even more gripping, in the sense that it was if possible more directly written from personal experience. As in the book about Iran, background, history, politics, arts everything is there. Though at the centre of this book are the people of Afghanistan, who have been in war for such a long time and whose suffering is rather too much to bear for the writer. In the last page he writes about this, how he is hardly able to experience directly this suffering and how he is growing in this aspect to bear this un-adultered suffering, without diluting it by reasoning, thinking, making it more relative. My respect. And I would like to say thank you for writing like this.
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on 11 May 2008
We have just come back from 18 days travelling throughout Iran. I read Elliott while travelling and my wife curses me I didn't give it to her until we came back.

Iran is an amazing place to visit and, unlike Afghanistan, readily accessible. Our goverment's attitude, in playing Mini-Me to the US's Dr Evil, means that only the rest of Europe enjoys Iran, even though Iranians, curiously, prefer UK visitors. Elliott bridged the gap between guidebooks like Lonely Planet and the real experience of Iran and engaging with the Iranis, which makes up 70% of the value of visiting the country. Curiously, although Elliott speaks Farsi, it really didn't seem to help him that much in striking up relationships and many of his travel observations (Tehran traffic, cheating taxi-drivers, pushy guides) are rather pedestrian.

Where he does score is with lyrical prose describing the effect of the architecture and the synthesis of art, architecture, calligraphy, garden design, poetry, landscape, interpersonal relationships, mysticism, spirituality, sexuality etc which in Islam are all aspects of a whole but which in the west, we compartmentalise. This is illustrated with stunning photographs, all the better for being in black-and-white.

His 'quest' lies in discovering the mystical foundation of architectural design and ornament, particularly the Golden Mean in the Imam mayden complex in Isfahan. He claims a first in identifying mystic numbers as the basis of much ornamentation (abjad) but Irani students I met were well acquainted with this so maybe he didn't talk to enough people.

He did seem to fall into the IIT (Intrepid Independant Traveller) trap of trying to interpret the counrty alone. We did an economy tour but had the services of a young educated Irani guide who travelled with us and was able to not only to interpret conversation with other Iranis but also translate the culture, relationships and experience of Iranis into something understandable to western eyes. Through her, we were able to engage with people in a way that we could not otherwise have done, even if we could have spoken the lingo. So, in a way he did not do Iranis justice for they are the most engaging, open, assertive (especially the women), funny, affectionate, kind, courteous people I have ever met, with the possible exception of the Bhutanese.

Despite this, Jason has written an excellent book - but mainly for those who have made the decision to visit Iran. I was button-holed by a number of people who had been inspired by it (including one of Jason's pushy guides) and it formed a connection. He follows the tradition of the best of travel writers (launched by Eric Newby's Short Walk in the Hindu Kush) of honouring his subject and being happy to laugh at himself.

For anybody interested, we used an Iranian agency. If anybody wants more details, email me on robin.dibblee@btinternet.com
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on 29 September 2009
This is a most fascinating book. Although very factual, it is also an imaginative and poetic evocation of a a country steeped in a long proud history. Iran is so different to the modern press reports of it, and its people sound lovely. Jason Elliot describes his experiences with a gentle humour, an extensive knowledge of history, and a perceptive eye for the astonishing architectural and artistic Persian achievements. I am really looking forward to travelling there myself. Meanwhile I am buying a second copy of the book as I have given the first one away and I want to read it again!
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on 3 February 2012
This is the second of Jason Elliots travel books, and I think it's misleading to call them travel books - they are so much more. As travel guides they would be almost useless, but as travel companions they are superb. In line with most other reviewers. I enjoyed enormously the staggering detail about so many aspects of Iranian life and history. I also found some passages a bit too dense, a bit too literary, but for me, that does not spoil the whole book. Some parts are so funny I was crying with laughter - I specially love the bit early on about the traffic!

I consider that most Western Europeans like myself are in dire need of books like this, to undo our prejudice and ignorance.
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on 30 August 2014
Having read his first book 'An Unexpected Light' and thoroughly enjoying it - I have to admit that I found this book a bit of a slog to be honest. There is not doubt that it is a well written scholarly travel book about one of my greatest interest areas, but I do think that the author laboured his thoughts about the origins and meaning of Islamic art a bit too much, which made parts of the book very hard work. However I never give up on a book unless its badly written so I persevered and did gain something from it. But did we really need to know quite so much detail about the authors conclusions on Islamic art with virtually every tile being analysed. I was disappointed that the author mentions a Monastry/shrine on a mountain top where when one enters a certain room/shrine everyone cries uncontrollably, but then fails to mention where that Monastry/shrine is situated or what it is called after a book of such profound detail - even thumbing back through the book and checking the authors maps I could only hazard a guess of the location of this site. Even so I cannot give the book a bad rating because the author writes well and speaks fluent Persian and it is worth persevering but be prepared for immense architectural detail - this is not really a book about the people of Iran or its politics although it does explain the religion well.
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