mega-super genius Pico Iyer, Eton, Harvard, Oxford at age 29 puts out Video Night in Katmandu], as its title suggests, a wryly humorous look at incongruities and abstractions-playing-out in odd corners of the world, and confirms his already existing reputation as an essayist, a solid 4 or 5 star book that is name-dropped among the literati (GR reports 1250 reads, which makes Iyer a medium-ranked essayist). 1991 (age 32) brings out a Japan study that focuses on the sweetness of the culture rather than its dark interior. 1993 returns Iyer to form, [b:Falling off the Map, here I offer the sympathy over-vote.
well... simple truth: Iyer has become slightly darker and slightly less interesting--if that is possible. the parody title of this book would be "Pico Iyer's soul," because it's actually all about Iyer Iyer Iyer, the global restless world wanderer who splits his time between Cuba and Japan and lived years in America without wanting to be a part of it. Iyer's anecdotes are also darker-- in place of gentle humour about obscure backpacking bars, there's more coverage of inequity, prejudice, and the inability of any society to absolutely 100% fully all-bases-covered bring in non-traditional groups as fully recognized majority-types. Iyer probably doesn't even realize he's doing it--but what comes out of this off decade in his life (30s) is a sort of inevitable darkening of character; away from continual oxonian paradise to being profiled at airports.
well... I'm sympathetic and then I'm also a little wary of this sort of prose. the situation (in an unsympathetic viewpoint to Iyer) might be that Iyer was too sweet from the start, and now the world isn't living up. on the other hand, he is outlining the achievements and failures of multiculturalism. on the one hand, as Iyer reports, the English cricket side is now more than 80% foreign-born or 2nd generation; on the other, as Iyer's own closest friends--Indians, apparently--point out, they're the only ones celebrating traditional Englishness, which is a sort of twist or irony peculiar to British identity (viz., to be British is to decry Britishness; the Indians are demonstrating how foreign they are by celebrating Tennyson's birthday whereas native Brits despise and loath Tennyson).
so this book is full of convuluted identity-mind games like this, but clearly Iyer is working on a darker level than in years past, and if Iyer doesn't have sweet innocent charm, then what does he exactly have? as fate would have it, the 2000s apparently marked a return of Iyer's good form (perhaps one's 40s are more relaxed than the end of youth of one's 30s), so I guess we are all lucky to have this achievement.
Iyer's work implicitly brings up the problem of "statistical prejudice." if 9/10 of the Indians who approach me in public places are attempting to negotiate some sort of trade deal or marketing project (and I am a literature major; I'm probably not going to get involved in any import-export project), what happens when I try to slide away from the 1/10 Indian at the airport who turns out to be an Oxonian and wishes to discuss Proust with me? this is something that I think most people in the end consider the "inescapable" part of human relations.