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Some of the most polished travel writing to appear in a long time--always revealing, sometimes reflective, frequently riotous--as Iyer investigates the impact of Reagonomics, Rambo, and rock-and-roll on the countries of the Orient. Eschewing the standard itinerary format of most travel journals, Iyer offers essays that range in subject from the Marcoses' Manila to the decline of New Age ""questing"" in Kathmandu--and displays a sharpshooter's eye for evocative detail whether discussing baseball mania in Japan, movie-making in India, or flesh-peddling in Bangkok. Along the way, the young English-born writer creates some unforgettable set pieces. Take, for example, the octogenarian American Marxist he encounters as she careens about the world in search of socialist answers, or the night spent in an airport hotel in Lhasa, where everything that could go awry--did. Then there is his visit to Professor Dr. Mr. Joshi, Ph. D., the Royal Astrologer of Nepal. The soothsayer offers such enlightening advice as, ""every month on the night of the full moon, you must meditate for one hour."" ""One whole hour?"" ""Okay, okay. Fifteen minutes."" Iyer is especially effective in capturing the time-capsule quality of Burma, where, he points out, the remnants of British Raj have lingered on long after they have vanished everywhere else. Equally effective: the depiction of Hong Kong's world of Yuppiedom; an analysis of why Filipino singers sound so familiar; and why the foreign visitor in Japan seldom sees more than what his hosts want him to see. Though the work, at nearly 400 pages, may be somewhat overextended, taken chapter by chapter it is a fresh and immensely accomplished Baedeker through the cultural thickets of the ""Not-So-Far East.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf