Pico Iyer might be the most difficult contemporary writer to summarize or review. a product of Eton, Oxford (Double First Class degree) and Harvard, he might very well have a 180 I.Q. one is intimidated by his intellect and academic training. Time Magazine. 10 cover stories. anything you write about him, aren't you merely setting yourself up for a devastating cross-interrogation?
as I wrote in my first review of his work
, a noticeable feature of his work is the continual and continuing innocence of outlook. Iyer might not quite be Pangloss and he's certainly no next-door Ned Flanders, but it's certainly fair to say that in his gently flowing prose there's a continual and subtle call to better oneself and seek the path of gentleness and humanity. Thoreau and Emerson inform his work; so do Graham Greene and Hermann Hesse. we can see the better-(wo)man that humanity can achieve. why, wonders Iyer, do we not simply take that step to become Her/Him?
I'm not sure that Iyer, if subject to a brutal and relentless physical assault in a dark alley would necessarily fight back. if a next-door neighbor began spying and harassing him, chasing him from market to workplace to friend's house, would Iyer ever raise a fist or buy a high-powered weapon? I don't know. and to that degree, at least 20-30% of humanity--whether African, European, American, Australian or whatever, can and will never understand Iyer. and doesn't Iyer's own photograph http://www.goodreads.com/photo/author/75520.Pico_Iyer show the passage of time on a gentle-person's philosophy? does not Iyer keep smiling at a world that is slightly more corrupt than the person inside?
in any case, this turns into digression...okay, let's return to the book....
FALLING OFF THE MAP is a series of restless and flowing travel stories from some of the places that are less traveled in the world. from Iceland to Australian, Bhutan to Paraguay, Iyer goes to where the package tourist doesn't, he specifically avoids London-Paris-Istanbul-Rio-Tokyo-Shanghai because there are the tourist touchstones of the globe, and if he is unlike [a:Kevin Sites|260062|Kevin Sites|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1367463547p2/260062.jpg] in that he is not seeking poverty, devastation, and war, nevertheless the passage to less-developed areas does awaken a humanist's appreciation of the complexities of global relations. perhaps to some degree western prosperity depends on broken regions, and perhaps Australia and Iceland have their own hidden darker sides. but Iyer does not dally. he does not question whether the world is necessarily twisted. it's off to the next destination. it's a gentle reference to the wife who awaits at home. it's a quiet introspection into the nature of man without passage oneself into the heart of darkness himself.
I can't offer absolute accolades to somebody caught up in the lace-and-silver quasi-Victorian worldview, who looks at a devastated drug-jungle and hears bird songs, who needs to call his wife for two hours even though his restless feet are taking him to cuba, who chides the provincialism of some small and forgotten western backwater without wondering whether those people feel they are trapped there. the fact of the matter is that your next-door neighbor, the one with a gentle and daily smile who keeps to himself might be keeping three prisoners in an underground cell he's dug out himself. this is reality, Pico! I wish we could all study at Oxford!