Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"The Man Within My Head," by Pico Iyer

In “The Man Within My Head” (Knopf, 2012), the writer Pico Iyer tells of his long obsession with, or perhaps haunting by, the writer Graham Greene. He looks at Greene’s life and work with a clear-eyed judgment; he by no means sees him as perfect. But there is something about Greene’s restlessness, his need to travel to faraway lands, and his shifting relationship with God, with religion, and with his fellow humans, that speaks to Iyer. The book describes Iyer’s own travels (to Bolivia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Easter Island, among other destinations), many to places where Greene spent time; this book describes a sort of nonlinear pilgrimage. In a much smaller way, Iyer has been in turn, from time to time, a man within my own head. I have occasionally read his articles in various publications over the years, and my antennae have always gone up when I have seen his byline. This man of Indian origin who grew up in California and went to boarding school in England, who has traveled far and wide, and who now is based in a small town in Japan with his Japanese wife Hiroko, is just the sort of citizen of the world that I am fascinated by. I am drawn to writers with this sort of background, and I have myself written about “third culture kids” who have lived and studied in several countries. My own upbringing and life surely come into this: I was born in Canada, grew up in India, and have lived my adult life in the United States; my husband is from a different country, two of my three sisters-in-law are from still other countries, I have traveled fairly widely, and I teach mostly international students, here in one of the most international, multicultural cities in the world, San Francisco. But my fascination with Iyer’s writing, and with his restless quest for identification with Greene, goes beyond my own autobiographical facts. Despite my own current rootedness in one city, there is something mysteriously attractive to me in the unmoored life, the restless movement and wider perspective provided by travel, that both Greene and Iyer have sought out. The particular confluence in Iyer’s life of India, England, and California -- some of the places that have been important in my actual life and my intellectual/emotional life -- provides another connection, another factor in my being drawn to Iyer’s work. And -- I realize I have not yet said, but should -- Iyer is a wonderful writer, evocative, descriptive, and meditative.

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