cover image Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells

Pico Iyer. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-451-49393-4

Aging, death, and family fracturing are seen through the lens of Japanese culture in this luminous memoir. Iyer (The Lady and the Monk), a British-Indian-American novelist and Time journalist who lives in Japan with his Japanese wife, Hiroko, recounts their efforts to cope with her father’s death, her mother’s entry into a nursing home, and her estrangement from her brother. He revisits Hiroko’s family stories, explores Japan’s mourning rituals as she tends relatives’ graves and offers cups of tea to her father’s spirit, and probes the feelings of guilt and betrayal—especially when her mother wants to live in their home—that rites can’t assuage. Iyer weaves in sharp observations of a graying Japan, particularly of the vigorous but gradually faltering oldsters in his ping-pong club, and visits to the Dalai Lama, a family friend, who dispenses brisk wisdom on life’s impermanence (“Only body gone,” the Dalai Lama says reflecting on death. “Spirit still there”). The book is partly a love letter to the vibrant Hiroko, whose clipped English—“I have only one speed. Always fastball. But my brother not so straight. Only curveball”—unfolds like haiku, and it’s partly an homage to the Japanese culture of delicate manners, self-restraint, and acceptance that “sadness lasts longer than mere pleasure.” The result is an engrossing narrative, a moving meditation on loss, and an evocative, lyrical portrait of Japanese society. [em](Apr.) [/em]