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Pico Iyer Reads

Many of us don't get to travel as much as we'd like. Sometimes you just have to settle for the next best thing: reading about a place. Good travel writing possesses the magical quality of allowing the reader to take instant flight, something that author Pico Iyer seems to accomplish through his writing, again and again. Now, before we spend time exploring his adopted home of Japan. We have the opportunity to hear a selection, a sneak preview, from Pico's current novel in progress. The working title is Abandon.

Pico Iyer Reads
by Deborah Clark

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Pico Iyer Reads

This is Pico Iyer's second foray into fiction. His first was Cuba and the Night which, as you'll hear later in the show, came about somewhat by accident. Pico's known specifically for his travel books like Lady and the Monk and Video Night in Kathmandu, not to mention a number of travel essays.

Abandon, the book we're about to hear from, is about Sufiism and is set partially in California, with some scenes in Iran. And as someone who prefers to be an outsider whenever he travels. Pico is currently debating whether or not he needs to actually visit Iran to write about the place.

Pico: "And I'm deliberating in my mind whether I might not be better able to catch it more imaginatively by not going. So I'm really just trying to decide whether I want to go just for a few days, take some notes, get a physical sense of what it looks like or whether it might actually be truer to something else not to go. But, just to create and describe the Iran that I have in my imagination."

As you'll hear later in the show, this approach worked well with his novel, Cuba and the Night. So, at least at this point, Pico is tackling Abandon, without the travel. See what you think.

Pico: "He set the alarm each day for 4 a.m., though that was hardly necessary. For each day, at just that time, the muezzin's cry, a long, slow agonized call of love, broke out over the dusty high-rises and shacks of the city. There were clusters of lights here and there on the hill, and then the desert began. Green-lit minarets looming up above the neon and the sky navy blue as he went down into the sleeping lobby and out into the hush of early morning streets.

Sometimes, the cabbie would drive him all the way down through the covered souk to the entrance of the mosque. More often, he would get dropped outside the castle and make the long walk through the ghostly marketplace, alone. Footsteps echoing up along the cobbled arcade, still rich with the smells of cardamum and spice, as if he were walking into a Sultan's feast. Outside the mosque, a few stray pigeons and some silent men in white skullcaps wore thick robes against the winter cold. Proceeding slowly through the northern gate and enter the great prayer hall.

Inside, all around him, the murmur of abandoned chant. Imams delivering sermons in corners under the great dome, twenty or thirty lined up before them. Others in rows, rocking back and forth before shrines like Tibetan monks. Women in black, children by their sides, in the areas against the wall and tall, lean students from the desert countries softly reciting from their Korans.

A sense all around of absolute surrender and he, from a less furious world, felt drawn to some impulse he had not lost entirely. It moved him just to sit there watching the students pace and pace, singing a soft line from their holy book. Watching the businessmen with their beads, making their rounds of the carpeted hall. Seeing the pigeons outside in the cool marble courtyard suddenly take flight against a royal blue sky and perch on a minaret. The same sense he'd once had as a boy in his grandfather's attic in Wiltshire, all the strangeness and magic and yet, a context that felt familiar. His. He watched their passion with an outsider's fascination."

Pico Iyer reading a passage from his novel-in-progress. The working title is Abandon. As we continue our journey this week, we hear more about Pico Iyer's work, his life, maybe learn a bit about how to see a destination through the eyes of someone who has an eye for travel.


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