Does Iran belong on the list of rogue nations? Absolutely not, British journalist Elliot urges in this virtuoso work.
True, its government is wacky. But Iran, despite mullahs and religious police, is not monolithic, as the author discovers early on in his four-year journey across the vast nation; says one weary beauty he meets (one of many), “Here in Iran we lead a double life. . . . Understand that, and you will understand everything.” Yet younger Iranians born long after the Khomeini revolution seem less and less inclined to toe the line, and even older ones with long memories of repression now seem intent on securing azadi—freedom. Elliot (An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, 2000) cannot help but address politics, for political matters are on everyone’s lips. But his real interests lie in the culture, in the sense of both everyday life and the finer matters of history and the arts. One of his explorations takes him into traditional art, which he puzzles out at different turns (“it is difficult to suppose that an art as prolific and expert as that of the Islamic world was driven by no more than a desire to impress the eye alone”), eventually linking it to the mysteries of mathematics, at which the Persians once excelled. Though fascinated by the past, the author has a knack for meeting characters, often eccentric, who tell just the right stories: an American expatriate quietly breeding miniature horses thought extinct; a brilliant conversationalist recalling the day an Iraqi missile crashed through the roof of her Tehran kitchen; assorted taxi drivers, hoteliers and intellectuals revealing essential aspects of the national character. What the reader learns of Iran is mostly positive, but by no means sugar-coated; some of the adventures presented here are for the stout-hearted only.
A tempering treatise, one hopes, for those rushing to make war on Iran—and an education for those trying to stop them.