cover image Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World

Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World

Pico Iyer. Alfred A. Knopf, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42264-8

Time journalist Iyer ( The Lady and the Monk ) has written on travel before, but in this collection of essays he steps out to face extremes of geography, imagination and culture, visiting places that most of us haven't--Bhutan, North Korea, Iceland and five others. The point of this? To consider, at close range, the identity of countries that exist in relative isolation, or did until recently, undiluted in their ``solitude, remoteness and seclusion.'' For example, in ``My Holiday With Kim Il Sung,'' he journeys to Pyongyang, a city that appears to be the personal property of the North Korean president--as are most of the people who live there, more or less willingly. Iyer persuasively mocks what he sees, yet also looks on it as a rather charming aberration. Similarly, he is both critical and amusing in pieces about Cuba and Paraguay--where the ``governing principle . . . seems to be one of languid illegality''--and when encountering the ``cold and science-fictive beauty'' of Australian twilight. Iyer is a stylist with an eye for strange things that doesn't keep him from feeling the humanity in exotica. (May)