The Elusive Face of Iran

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.

Persian Mirrors 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. The election of the reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami as President in 1997 exposed these contradictions by opening the door not only to greater popular participation in Iran’s Islamic government, but also to fierce political infighting, conducted as much with subtlety and indirection as with repression and fear.

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.


“Complex and nuanced. Sciolino makes a persuasive case that Iran is one of the few places in the world in which the claims of the theocracy and democracy vie with more or less matched force. [Her] book makes it clear that they have a long way to go.”
The New York Time Book Review

“Sciolino succeeds in exposing the lie of America’s Iran. Her intimate portrait… shows us a country whose bold experimentation with certain democratic ideals often mirrors our own.”
The Washington Post

“Sciolino is hopeful, if not certain, that Iranians an work their way to the rational, respectable government they deserve, and her intelligence and style convey exactly what’s at stake.”
The New Yorker

“Sciolino draws on her long experience to illuminate Iran’s seductive contradictions – it’s ardent, grim faith and the hospitality, irreverence, and mirth of its people.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Few observers are as equipped to report on present day Iran as Sciolino. [Her] interviews with Iranian men and women are extra-ordinarily instructive.”
The Washington Times

“A welcome step towards greater understanding of a complicated country … One of its most fascinating features is its picture of Iranian women.”
The Economist

“American readers need a book like this, a fine account of where Iran stands today and how it got there.”
Chicago Tribune

“Iran is not easy to know well, but Ms. Sciolino knows it intimately.”
The New York Times

“With Persian Mirrors, Elaine Sciolino has lifted the veil to let us readers see—and understand—the elusive face of Iran. The fruits of more than twenty years of penetrating reporting are evident here in this sensitive and perceptive book that illuminates Iran’s old and new orders. She has helped make this foreign country more familiar, delivering a clear-eyed analysis that is both enlightening and entertaining.”
Katharine Graham

“No American reporter knows Iran as well as Elaine Sciolino. This is a captivating, intimate, sensitive, finespun journey through the contradictions of the Iranian revolution and the new order it created. Her insights will make you wonder why we begin a new century still so out of touch with such a fascinating place.”
Peter Jennings, ABC News