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Only in India would the American film Rambo be remade with the title role played by a woman--in a sari, no less! Only in Hong Kong would a man at a cocktail party pick up a woman with the line "What do you think of the dollar?" And only in Video Night in Kathmandu will you find detailed, unsettling portraits of a Far East in flux as experienced by Pico Iyer, a travel writer beyond compare. Tibet, China, India, and Thailand--these are among the objects of Iyer's wanderlust, the subjects of 11 essays chronicling his travels. In India, he explores the lucrative Bombay film business: "The process of turning an American movie into an Indian one was not very difficult ... but it did require a few changes.... the Indian hero had to be domesticated, supplied with a father, a mother, and a clutch of family complications." As one film director told him, " ... for example, Rambo must be given a sister who was raped." In Bangkok he finds the sex trade is well nigh impossible to avoid: " ... by the time a third official government tout approached me with the novel invitation: 'My friend. You no like birdwatching?' I was inclined to suspect that ornithology was not among his interests."
Pico Iyer is more than just a travel writer. For four years, he wrote about world affairs for Time, and he brings to these brilliant, comical, and poignant essays his extensive knowledge of politics and culture as well as a journalist's eye for the telling details. Video Night in Kathmandu provides both a stark, unsettling view of modern Asia and an exploration of the ambivalent attitudes Asians hold toward the West.
In 1985, Iyer, a British freelance writer, crisscrossed eastern Asia to view the spread of America's pop-cultural imperialism through 10 of the world's oldest civilizations. With serendipity as his guide, he spent only a few weeks in each country, and most of his intelligence came by chance. Nevertheless, this traveler's casual observations make a book of warmth, charm and sensibility, and anyone intending to visit the Orient will greatly benefit from his arresting descriptions and shrewd assessments: Bangkok is a mixture of "pizzas, pizzazz and all the glitzy razzmatazz of the American Dream, California style." China displays "the get-rich-quick politics of the Cultureless Revolution." Money-mad Hong Kong is "the largest metropolis in the world without a museum." Despite its "impatience of limitations," Japan is obsessed by baseball and Disneyland. Tibet is "the latest way station of the Denim Route." The people of the Philippines, "masters of Asia's hospitality business," are the most depressing and desperate. One word characterizes Singapore: "McCity." In the end, it is poor, shabby Burma, "the dotty eccentric of Asia, the queer maiden aunt who lives alone" that has the most appeal. If the image abroad of America is "perplexingly double-edged" the responses it provokes are "appropriately forked-tongued," and, in the last chapter, "The Empire Strikes Back," Iyer begins to suspect that every Asian culture he visited is probably "too deep, too canny or too self-possessed to be turned by passing trade winds from the west."
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
I tried reading this book while in Kathmandu, and forced myself to finish the chapter on said city before throwing the book across my hotel room in frustration. Read morePublished on Oct. 17 2001
As a long standing fan of Pico Iyer's writing, I had high expectations of this book. It is entertaining and fun, but Mr. Iyer comes off as rather self-centered. Read morePublished on July 13 2001 by Pamela
Iyer's book captures a particular moment in the 1980s in each of the places he visits. He acknowledges that he provides little historical context for his experiences, such as how... Read morePublished on Feb. 16 2001 by Adrian
Pico Iyer is one of the best Asia writers out there. His Lady and the Monk: 4 Seasons in Kyoto is by far the most beautiful book I have ever read. It was magical. Read morePublished on April 27 2000 by Kindle Customer
as a genre, i find travel books lacking. exceptions, perhaps, are the british expat writers like graham greene, lawrence durell, and (sometimes) paul thureau. Read morePublished on Jan. 20 1999
I am slowly working my way through Iyer's collection of travel essay books,passing them on to friends when I am through. Read morePublished on Dec 27 1998 by lkaren reads
Places change, but in Asia the essential Difference remains. Iyer conveys the underlying reality, that beneath the veneer of invading Western culture, Asia is still mysterious. Read morePublished on May 8 1998 by Barry Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org)