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  Pico Iyer's latest book is about feeling lost, disoriented


With his latest book "Sun After Dark: Flights into the Foreign," Pico Iyer carries the reader into the sense of strangeness, and into the expanded sense of possibility strangeness sometimes brings.

In this collection of essays and book reviews, the renowned travel writer takes one to locations where the simple act of arrival may be tainted with menace or a misgiving upon departure presages terror to come.

He journeys from such locales as a prison in Bolivia to a hidden monastery in Tibet, with stops along the way in Haiti, Bali, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Oman, Yemen and Easter Island. Along the way, he holds conversations with the Dalai Lama, writers W.G. Sebald and Kazuo Ishiguro, and songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Born to Indian parents in England, Iyer, 47, is the author of five travel/culture books: "Video Night in Katmandu," "The Lady and the Monk," "The Global Soul," "Falling off the Map" and "Tropical Classical," and two novels, "Cuba and the Night" and "Abandon." He splits his time between residences in California and Japan.

In a recent interview, Iver talked about travel, writing and the future:

KhaasBaat: How different was the feeling you had after completing "Sun After Dark" compared to some of your previous titles such as "The Global Soul" or "Tropical Classical?"

Iyer: In this book, I was deliberately attempting a kind of magic realism of travel writing, and, having written so much about specific places and cultures, was hoping to do something different and write about states of mind, planes of consciousness, all the dark corners of our being that travel awakens. So it was much more challenging than my earlier books for me -- indeed, it is about challenge -- and much more fun. A traveler, to me, is someone who's always looking for a new adventure on the page as much as in life, and who, if he's covered one kind of writing, starts looking for another.

So this book, as you saw, is about shadows as much as about light, is about mystery as much as about certainty, aims to take off from clarity and the bright light of day into all those sensations and places we can't even understand. “The Global Soul” made me feel seasick and jetlagged and dizzy to the point of headache (which is what it was meant to do -- since it aimed to replicate the frenzied, fragmented, MTV quality of much of modern life); this book was about feeling lost, disoriented, in a daze. Hard to try to bring those states to the page -- but the fun lies in the challenge!

KhaasBaat: Your chapter on Dalai Lama is an interesting read. After meeting the Dalai Lama, did you get the feeling that he has lost most hope for liberation of Tibet from the Chinese?

Iyer: I've met the Dalai Lama at regular intervals since 1974 -- I spent two days with him last week in Vancouver, in fact, together with Archbishop Tutu and Shirin Ebadi -- and I think he may be a little less optimistic about resolving everything in Tibet. And yet he's also seen Tibetan culture, and his own philosophy, get more attention and win more friends around the world than he could ever have hoped. And I think his particular gift is always for seeing the best in everything and, in a difficult situation, always finding the place of hope and possibility.

So he's done an excellent job of giving Tibet a solid grounding and a practical life outside Tibet, and he speaks stirringly for the fact that we should never give up (and truth and justice will always out). We never expected the Berlin Wall to fall so suddenly, he always says, we never thought apartheid could be conquered, we never anticipated that Tibet would be so warmly embraced by the world ... so it would be presumptuous for us to second-guess the future.

KhaasBaat: What next for Pico Iyer? Another travel book, maybe a novel?

Iyer: I'm actually working, if you can believe it, on four or five books at once, novels, sets of stories, collections of literary essays, works of travel; indeed, I have two books already finished, though I'm not sure when I'll actually send them to my editor and try to bring them out. So I always try to keep myself alive and alert by mixing lots of different projects, and what I can tell you is that two of the main things I'm working on involve two of my longtime heroes and inspirations, the Dalai Lama (again -- since I've spent a lot of time with him since the essay included in “Sun After Dark”) and Graham Greene.


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