cover image The Man Within My Head

The Man Within My Head

Pico Iyer. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-26761-0

Graham Greene isn’t the man essayist and novelist Iyer (Sun After Dark) would choose to take up residence in his head—“I would most likely fasten on someone more dashing, more decisive, less unsettled”—but it’s his lifelong fascination with Greene that fuels this deeply personal journey that crisscrosses the world and his own past. As much a catalogue of Iyer’s extensive travels as a musing on Greene’s themes of foreignness, displacedness, and otherness, the text moves seamlessly between Iyer’s days as a schoolboy in England and adventures in Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Cuba. For Iyer—who was born in England to India-born parents, moved to California at eight, but soon returned to the U.K. for boarding school—Greene’s oft-repeated theme of the foreigner resonates deeply. Like an “adopted parent,” Greene is forever by his side: a hotel in Saigon reminds him of The Quiet American, a seminal text for Iyer; his first trip to Cuba brings to mind the author; and even Iyer’s old Oxford neighborhood is reminiscent of Greene, as his ex-wife lived nearby. As he explores his obsession, Iyer cautiously peels back the layers of his relationship with his own father, a brilliant philosopher whose belief in mysticism Iyer did not share. In the hands of a lesser writer, the dueling father figures would dissolve into melodrama, but Iyer weaves them brilliantly, reminding us that “we run from who we are.., only to discover, of course, that that is precisely what we can never put behind us.” (Feb.)