CondÇ Nast Traveler contributing editor Iyer submits a disparate collection of meditations that, taken together, offer a fascinating portrait of the turbulent and tentative emergence of a truly global culture. Travel assumes many guises in this compilation, and while Iyer (Cuba and the Night, 1995, etc.) does indeed take us to far-off exotic lands in several essays (including a trip to the empty spaces of Ethiopia, where he discovers a vibrant form of Christendom and churches filled with white-robed priests), he also profiles literary figures, foreign and domestic, whose work transcends--or is emblematic of--a national identity. He also ruminates more broadly on the cross-border influences of popular culture. An essay on the filming of Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha in a village in Nepal points out how some of the more peculiar attributes of ordinary Nepalese life are made even more bizarre under the sway of the film crew. Visiting Bombay, his ancestral homeland, Iyer writes of the zanily complicated and teeming city as a ``pressure point for an archetypal global struggle between a multicultural future and a tribal past.'' Iyer profiles three of the ``masters'' of the evolving literary form that he has dubbed ``tropical classical''--poet Derek Walcott, novelist Michael Ondaatje, and essayist Richard Rodriguez--noting that each is ``trying to put the realities of our multinational present into the established structures of the past; to link the traditions of our textbooks with the changing societies around us.'' An assortment of literary essays, focusing on authors such as R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie, and Kazuo Ishiguro, among others, also sounds this theme: Writers everywhere, he says, ``are using the words they've learned at their masters' feet to turn their masters' literature on its head.'' A pleasing, occasionally sobering, and provocative exploration of the new culture emerging around us and the figures bringing it to life.