Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East Paperback – Jun 18 1989
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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.
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Top Customer Reviews
A few years ago, I wrote a book about travelling around East Asia called Notes from the Other China. Some people liked it, others didn't. My first book, I'm not really happy with it and don't recommend reading it. It's derivative and disjointed, but it's original, or so I thought. I was defensively touting its originality on a discussion board once when someone asked, `What about Pico Iyer's Video Nights in Kathmandu?' Another commenter chimed in, `Yes, I was just thinking of that one. He's good.'
I thought, `Pico who?'
I bought Mr. Iyer's The Global Soul, read half of it, and dropped it off at a second-hand bookstore thinking, `Life's too short.' I was also happy in a way. Iyer wasn't that good. I found The Global Soul boring (brush fires in California) and fawning (the city of Toronto). `I can write better,' I thought, and then, thinking there must have been something to the book that launched Iyer's career, I bought Video Nights in Kathmandu and such illusions evaporated.
Video Nights in Kathmandu is a travel-lit classic. It's beautifully written and realized. It's insightful, engaging, and all those other favourable adjectives professional reviewers use to gush about a book. Iyer makes use of metaphor superbly, he uses just the right amount of comedy, he's excellent at analysing and dissecting cultures, and he writes with genuine empathy, and it's this last quality that taught me something about travel writing.Read more ›
The book really has two main values. First, it gives an annecdotal view of a lifestyle that, while only 15-20 years ago, is already gone. Hong Kong 1986 is a place in transition that is different than Hong Kong today. While many books today provide political and economic viewpoints on the times, and the changes, they don't accurately cover an expats view of life and cultural exchange.
The second value is in understanding aspects of the culture that still apply. India's polyclot of ethnic groups and interaction with the West applies today. Pico Iyer is adept at capturing cultural traits that last, and perhaps even grow, despite the pressures of a globalizing world.
I'm not a universal fan of all of Iyer's material, but this is certainly one of his better works. It's more readable, and the concepts more universal and lasting than some of his other books.
What especially impressed me was that Iyer does not romanticize or glorify or exoticize what is beautiful about the lands he travels to. Nor does he denigrate their shortcomings. He is a fair and honest observer of what he has chosen to observe: the ground zero of "west" meeting "east".
As someone who has studied in both China and Thailand (as well as two other Asian countries which were not in the book), I can vouch for the accuracy of what Iyer is reporting. Sure, a scholarly author might have added more details about Chinese philosophy or Thai history. But for his chosen topic, Iyer's accounts are complete and flawless.
The book is certainly entertaining, but it is also informative and thought-provoking as well. Well done, Mr. Iyer.
Most recent customer reviews
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 The Shogunstein
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 (email@example.com)