Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Two Memoirs and a Thriller . . .

I know, two travel memoirs and a thriller might not seem to fit together sensibly in one post, but truly, it's often the way I read. I regularly throw a mystery or thriller into my reading roster to create a kind of thinking space, to leave more room for the books that want more contemplation or that demand a slower pace for a weightier theme. Funny that it should be murder and mayhem that provides relief, but there you have it!
So Flynn Berry's A Double Life was read at various points when I'd tucked a bookmark somewhere in the pages of Pico Iyer's 1992 The Lady and the Monk, and finished in one last gulp before I turned to Iyer's more recent memoir of his life in Japan, August Light.
As you'll learn if you can be patient and discern my handwritten journal entries, I had some considerable impatience reading Iyer's '92 account of the year he spent in Kyoto. . . . his view of it seemed so influenced by the trope he was determined to impose, one which seemed tediously masculinist to me. He seemed too often to be speaking for the woman who served as his muse and entry-point to the culture.

I was reading that memoir as preparation to read Autumn Light, as recommended to me in some review, somewhere. . . . An elegiac memoir of Iyer's life in Japan since that last book was written, and with that Muse his wife of nearly 25 years. . . Gentle, wry, observant, thoughtful. . . .

This one I'd recommend without reservation. And despite my impatience with it, I would probably suggest that you at least browse through The Lady and the Monk first, just to capture the difference of flavour between the two, between the younger man and the older, and to be able to recognize some recurrent figures. . . To be fair, there are also evocative descriptions of Kyoto and the surrounding landscapes, of festivals and rituals and etiquette and streetlife. . . . as well as a thoughtful introduction, reading over the young Iyer's shoulder, to Zen philosophy and to Japanese writing.

As usual, I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've read any of these.  Feel free to ask if you need me to decipher words or sentences for you in my chickenscratch. . . And otherwise, I'm always keen to know what you're reading these days.


Anonymous said...

I must look for the Pico Iyer books. Our trip to Japan - mainly Kyoto and the surrounding area - was unforgettable. Even after just three weeks I fell in love with the culture and lifestyle, to the point where I had trouble readjusting to life back home!
Frances in Sidney

materfamilias said...

Frances: We've never been, but I've begun to imagine travelling there (probably won't happen during these years with our little family in Europe, which claims all the travel budget now). . . Travelling with Iyer was thus such a treat for me, but I suspect you'd also enjoy the way it would revive your memories and perhaps broaden and deepen your knowledge and understanding of that culture. Let me know, please, if you do read either/both.