One of the best travel writers now at work in the English language brings back the sights and sounds from a dozen different frontiers. A cryptic encounter in the perfumed darkness of Bali; a tour of a Bolivian prison, conducted by an enterprising inmate; a nightmarish taxi ride across southern Yemen, where the men with guns may be customs inspectors or revolutionaries–these are just three of the stops on Pico Iyer’s latest itinerary.
But the true subject of Sun After Dark is the dislocations of the mind in transit. And so Iyer takes us along to meditate with Leonard Cohen and talk geopolitics with the Dalai Lama. He navigates the Magritte-like landscape of jet lag, “a place that no human had ever been until forty or so years ago.” And on every page of this poetic and provocative book, he compels us to redraw our map of the world.
"A trip has really been successful if I come back sounding strange even to myself," writes Iyer (The Global Soul, Falling off the Map; etc.) near the beginning of his latest travel book, a superb collection of essays, book reviews and unclassifiable miscellany. Iyer is an inveterate traveler who seems to have been everywhere, seen everything and talked to everyone. In this book alone, he enjoys a surreal romance in Bali, greets the New Year among the windswept statues of Easter Island and makes an ill-advised visit to Oman (the birthplace of Osama bin Laden) just six weeks before September 11. Other journeys are more spiritual than physical. In one essay, Iyer explores the interior dreamscapes caused by jet lag; in penetrating reviews of books by W.G. Sebald and Kazuo Ishiguro, he finds metaphors of postmodern dislocation and homelessness. Iyer seems particularly fascinated by the concept of exile not surprising, perhaps, for a man born of Indian parents who now lives in suburban Japan. Two of the book's best pieces focus on high-profile exiles: the singer Leonard Cohen, who has withdrawn to a Buddhist monastery outside Los Angeles; and the Dalai Lama, who juggles the demands of his refugee subjects with the stresses of worldwide fame. Like the best travel writers, Iyer is adept at peeking underneath the surface of things, of finding the deeper meanings in every strange word, glance and sigh he encounters. This book reproduces the unsettling but rewarding experience of travel, and will remind readers of "the expanded sense of possibility that strangeness sometimes brings." FYI:Vintage will simultaneously publish a paperback edition of Iyer's 2003 novel, Abandon: A Romance.