cover image Video Nights

Video Nights

Pico Iyer. Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95 (376pp) ISBN 978-0-394-55027-5

In 1985, Iyer, a British freelance writer, crisscrossed eastern Asia to view the spread of America's pop-cultural imperialism through 10 of the world's oldest civilizations. With serendipity as his guide, he spent only a few weeks in each country, and most of his intelligence came by chance. Nevertheless, this traveler's casual observations make a book of warmth, charm and sensibility, and anyone intending to visit the Orient will greatly benefit from his arresting descriptions and shrewd assessments: Bangkok is a mixture of ""pizzas, pizzazz and all the glitzy razzmatazz of the American Dream, California style.'' China displays ``the get-rich-quick politics of the Cultureless Revolution.'' Money-mad Hong Kong is ``the largest metropolis in the world without a museum.'' Despite its ``impatience of limitations,'' Japan is obsessed by baseball and Disneyland. Tibet is ``the latest way station of the Denim Route.'' The people of the Philippines, ``masters of Asia's hospitality business,'' are the most depressing and desperate. One word characterizes Singapore: ``McCity.'' In the end, it is poor, shabby Burma, ``the dotty eccentric of Asia, the queer maiden aunt who lives alone'' that has the most appeal. If the image abroad of America is ``perplexingly double-edged'' the responses it provokes are ``appropriately forked-tongued,'' and, in the last chapter, ``The Empire Strikes Back,'' Iyer begins to suspect that every Asian culture he visited is probably ``too deep, too canny or too self-possessed to be turned by passing trade winds from the west.'' (April)