Pico Iyer has for many years described with keen perception and exacting wit the shifting textures of faraway lands anchored on a spinning globe that mixes and matches East and West. Now he casts a philosophical eye upon this curious state of floatingness.
In the transnational village that our world has become, travel and technology fuel each other and us. As Iyer points out, "everywhere is so made up of everywhere else," and our very souls have been put into circulation. Yet even global beings need a home.
Using his own multicultural upbringing (Indian, American, British) as a point of departure, Iyer sets out on a quest, both physical and psychological, to find what remains constant in a world gone mobile. He begins in Los Angeles International Airport, where town life — shops, services, sociability — is available without a town, and in Hong Kong, where people actually live in self-contained hotels. He moves on to Toronto, which has been given new life and a new literature by its immigrant population, and to Atlanta, where the Olympic Village inadvertently commemorates the corporate universalism that is the Olympics' secret face. And, finally, he returns to England, where the effects of empire-as-global-village are still being sorted out, and to Japan, where in the midst of alien surfaces, Iyer unexpectedly finds a home.
"As a guide to far-flung places, Pico Iyer can hardly be surpassed," The New Yorker has written. In The Global Soul, he extends the meaning of far-flung to places within and all around us.
A swirl of locations, time zones and cultures marks Iyer's (Video Night in Katmandu) breathless look at today's world, where borders are passed through as quickly as an airport gift shop. To the author, the concept of the global soul is flexible. It could mean someone who, like the international consultant who carries five different plane tickets at all times, calls the road home, or it could represent the citizen who combines a multicultural past with an equally colorful present. "For a Global Soul like me--for anyone born in several cultures--the challenge in the modern world is to find a city that speaks to as many of our homes as possible," Iyer writes. (An ethnic Indian, Iyer grew up in England and the U.S.; today he splits his time between California and Japan.) He blends an exploration of people like himself with the places they inhabit--the netherworld that is an airport, cities separated from their pasts like Hong Kong, the ethnic m lange of Toronto and the improbable urbanity of Olympic-host Atlanta. Many of these locales are at once Everyplace and No Place, and Iyer deftly captures the rootlessness of those who dwell there. As he does in his magazine pieces, Iyer brings a fine spiritual current to his writing, and his descriptive talents are unsurpassed, even if he lets his mouth hang open a little too wide marveling at the postmodernism of it all.