Saturday, July 14, 2007

Video Night in Kathmandu and Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East - Pico Iyer

The Basics: Video Night in Kathmandu and Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East, Pico Iyer, 1988, 382 pages, soft cover.

How I found it: Random browsing in the travel writing section of Chapters. Plus, I had already read some of Iyer's work and knew I liked it.

What's it about?: Iyer took a series of trips to Asia in the mid-80s while most countries there were in the middle of becoming more and more Westernized. He writes a chapter on each of the countries he visited, Bali, Tibet, Nepal, China, The Philippines, Burma, Hong Kong, India, Thailand and Japan. For each chapter he focuses on the ways each country and its people are taking on Western influences, and the ways in which they are making them their own.

Did I like it?: Iyer is an excellent travel writer. He includes enough of himself in his writing to make the reader understand who he is and how he feels about the experiences he is having, but he doesn't include so much that his experience overshadows what the place is really about. Iyer also attempts to really engage the locals, understand their view and their life, and tell the reader a bit of their story as well as his own. Iyer's book is also a bit of a time capsule - it was written in the late 80s, almost 20 years ago, and presumably, a lot has changed. The edition I have contains a new afterword which was written in 2000. In the afterward Iyer comments that much has changed in Asia, in terms of the effects of globalization and technology, but that much as remained the same. I think that must be even more true now.

Will you like it?: If you are interested in travel writing, Iyer's is among some of the best and this is a great book to check out. Iyer manages to really personalize Asia, while at the same time illustrating how global culture is becoming. Great writing and some great stories.

But don't take my word for it: The usual collection of publishers blurbs and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from the blog of professional traveler and author Rolf Potts, vagablogging, a recent interview with Iyer, and a not as recent interview.


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