cover image Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions

Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions

Pico Iyer, Pico Ivyer. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45432-8

God is in the details in Iyer's (Falling Off the Map) writing. In this collection of essays and articles spanning the last 15 years, Iyer describes places, people and books, always circling back to the theme of travel and the collision (and collusion) of cultures. Growing up in Oxford, England, Iyer later moved with his Indian-born parents to California, emerging from this broad experience to forge the language he uses here- a juxtaposition of ancient and modern, of cool classical education and warm tropical sensuality. Iyer is an outsider in the best sense, blending ironic distances with an open-hearted yearning to find something greater behind appearances. Watching white-robed worshippers in Ethiopia on Christmas Eve, he describes feeling the ""forgotten soul of the whole thing: thanksgiving amidst hardship and songs of glorious praise."" Yet, he celebrates the prosperity that the filming of Bertolucci's Little Buddha temporarily brought to Nepal, refusing to romanticize the poverty of the Third World. His portraits of the Dalai Lama, Peter Brook, Peter Matthiessen and others show his ability to balance reverence with critical insight. Yet, it is Iyer's extended book reviews of Derek Wolcott, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Andrew Harvey and other fellow ""cross-cultural hybrids"" that really illuminate his notion of home as a state of consciousness. As free and generous with adverbs and adjectives as he is with his aspirations, he sometimes lays it on too thick, as in his essay on Jim Harrison and other American ""drifters and dreamers."" But he is wonderfully imaginative and insightful, showing us a multicultural world in which the timeless and the temporal tumble together, glimmering with intimations of deeper meaning and the cartoon-colored accents of international pop culture. (Apr.)