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Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home

by Pico Iyer

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 2000
ISBN: 0-679-45433-0
Publisher: Knopf

A delectable smorgasbord of bite-size travel details and large truths that offer a taste of the global world to come. Iyer (Tropical Classical, 1997, etc.) is an Indian born in England who moved to California, then Japan. This rootless cosmopolitan cannot even pronounce the first name he was given. His English, however, is rich enough to describe a “whole planet joyriding in somebody else’s Porsche” and Japan’s “promiscuous consumption of all the cultures in the world.” Iyer’s globe hopping racks up cross-cultural observations as fast as frequent-flier miles, conveying along the way the myriad challenges and delights of “living out of a linguistic suitcase.” He finds Buddhist anti-materialism more realistic than the American pursuit of happiness, a preference dramatized when a firestorm destroys his California home. A burning house is a Buddhist symbol of freedom from possessions, and Iyer is a global soul, not a mere jet-setter who quotes Emerson. A social consciousness—he points out that Bill Gates is financially worth a hundred million other Americans—also elevates his travel notes above CondÇ Nast. A polyglot world-city like Toronto lives up to his ideal of “the city as anthology,” but the homeless Iyer finally finds family and home in suburban Japan. True, their world is a giant souvenir store, but he appreciates the unambiguous concern of the Japanese with faking innocence, and is most at home among the displaced. Travelers who do not number themselves among these “multi-cultural foundlings,” where national borders are blurred, are now an anachronism: “The man who never leaves home may feel that home is leaving him.” Yet Iyer compares travel’s constant wonder at the foreign to childhood, the defining anchor that global souls lack. His descriptions of the bounty and paranoia of airports alone make his musings an ideal carry-on. An eloquent eulogy for our late millennium’s old-world order of provincialism, and a passport to our borderless future.