Fresh from my mid-winter cruise, and a bit disappointed because the ship did not make one of its appointed stops in the Cayman Islands due to stormy weather, I was looking for something new to read, especially if it had to do with travel. Back on terra firma, and ignoring my "For Later" shelf (books to read later), a feature which I use on the New York Public Library's newly acquired interface to the catalog, Bibliocommons, I picked up Paul Theroux's The Tao of Travel. In it, he surveys travel writings and includes excerpts from a variety of writers, including the essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer. A short time after completing Theroux's book, I happened to see that Pico Iyer was to be interviewed by Paul Holdengräber, director of LIVE from the NYPL, on February 7th, 2012. My interest soared, because I had just read about him.
On the evening of the LIVE from the NYPL program, Pico Iyer discussed his latest book with Paul Holdengräber, The Man Within My Head. He spoke of how Graham Greene (1904 - 1991) had a lifelong influence on him. Greene's first published novel, in 1929, was The Man Within. I am interested in finding parallels, so I've begun reading Iyer's works before delving into Graham Greene's ouevre. The first book that I read was Cuba And The Night, a work of fiction. My feeling is that because Iyer made trips to Cuba, of some duration and frequency, that this enabled his deft insight into Cuban culture. The result was a work of fiction revolving around ordinary people's lives, their relationships to relatives and friends, living both in Cuba and the United States.
The next work of fiction, Abandon: A Romance,
I read slowly. A romance develops, but furthermore it becomes interwoven into the mystery-adventure, surrounding the search by an Islamic scholar of the poet Rumi's lost texts. The reader is taken back and forth from Iran to Southern California—a statement on the Copyright Page, makes it clear, that Pico Iyer never visited Iran, and that everything he wrote was not based on actual events.
Taking a break from Iyer's fiction, I read The Lady And The Monk. The reader is informed, in the most romantic of ways, how it came about that Iyer makes his home in Kyoto, Japan, when not living in California or travelling. The writing is mesmerizing, and I like how Iyer includes foreign-language words, into this, and each of his books I've read so far. For instance, we may know that Moshi-moshi means hello, and, Arigato, means thank you, but Iyer weaves many more Japanese words and phrases into this book. Iyer has lived in Japan for many years, and has said that he does not speak fluent Japanese.
Another non-fiction work is The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home. This book consists of a series essays. One theme, revolves around the coming-together of different cultures arriving at L.A. International Airport, which he describes as being its own city. Another theme surrounds an international business traveller, who holds several plane tickets and more than one passport at one time. What undergirds these, and other essays in this book, is that of being in a state of flux, or rootlessness. As you read them, you may even get a feeling of déjà vu.
Currently, I am reading Sun After Dark: Flights Into The Foreign, a work of non-fiction. As I read this book of themed essays, it strikes me that the first part of the book's title, Sun After Dark, could be read as metaphor for countries that have endured, each in their own way; whether it's the current Occupation of Tibet, or war-torn Cambodia, where over forty thousand people have lost limbs due to land mines. Iyer inures himself of how people in a country live, puts it into current and historical contexts, and the results are spectacularly compelling narratives.
I eagerly await the reading of Tropical Classical: Essays From Several Directions, Video Night In Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-so-Far Near East, and, Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World.
For biographical information on Pico Iyer, visit the New York Public Libary's Articles and Databases page, and select the Biography In Context database, which is accessible both onsite from all Branch Library Locations, and remotely with your New York Public Library Card and pin number. While still on the Articles and Databases page, you may also choose the Academic One File database to read Iyer's essays and articles from magazines and journals such as Time, Harper's, Times Literary Supplement, Partisan Review, American Scholar, and Iowa Review. Iyer is also a contributor to the New York Review of Books; the online version of this magazine may only be accessed when onsite at any of the New York Public Library's locations, using the Full-Text Electronic Journals Page.