A Rumi of One’s Own

Novelist Pico Iyer Navigates the Spirit Level

With Abandon, Iyer also returns to a subject that colors all of his books, the cross-cultural romance. (He identifies himself, for the first time, as "the author of several books about the romance between cultures" in the author's note.) The Lady and the Monk, Iyer's 1991 travel memoir about Kyoto and the Japanese woman who enchants him there, introduces the idea of love's transcendent power: "The words she used had a kind of otherworldly, romantic Zen flavor—or, at least, a sense of clarity and calm that seemed to cut to the heart of Zen and to the very notion of depth in Japan. She made our friendship seem a sacrament." Cuba and the Night (1996), Iyer's first novel, tells another love story about a young woman hoping to be rescued and her reluctant hero, this time against the harsh realities of Havana. In all of these books, as Iyer puts it, "neither party understands each other, but they do fall in love."

Iyer: re-imagining California from Islam's point of view
photo: Derek Shapton
Iyer: re-imagining California from Islam's point of view


By Pico Iyer
Knopf, 352 pp., $24
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And this, ultimately, is Iyer's greatest source of optimism. Abandon was written well before September 11, but it still reads as an emphatic response to those who ask whether violence is the inevitable outcome of the encounter between Islam and America. "I deliberately chose the 'enemy' tradition," Iyer says. "I'm not sure whether governments will ever come to an agreement, but I think people can." In the clear light of day, that idea might seem foolishly hopeful, but in Abandon's shadows, it feels mysteriously possible.

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