It's Thursday: We must be in the mall
THE GLOBAL SOUL: JET LAG, SHOPPING MALLS, AND THE SEARCH FOR HOME By Pico Iyer Alfred A. Knopf 301 pp. $25
The peripatetic journalist and author Pico Iyer describes himself as "a person with an American alien card and an Indian face and a British accent." When not traveling to places like Cuba or Katmandu (subjects of two of his previous books), he divides his time between "homes" in Santa Barbara and Kyoto.
If one were looking for a candidate to write about the dizzying flux of our ever-shrinking, ever-more interdependent world, Iyer's credentials are impeccable.
But one need not have racked up as many frequent-flier miles as Iyer to have noticed a kind of creeping homogeneity of the man-made landscape. Swamped by the same fast-food joints, video stores, T-shirts, athletic shoes, and designer logos, the most distant places on earth look more and more alike.
"I began to wonder," writes Iyer, "whether a new kind of being might not be coming to light ... a 'Global Soul.' This creature could be a person who had grown up in many cultures all at once - and so lived in the cracks between them.... His memories might be set in airports that looked more and more like transnational cities, in cities that looked like transnational airports."
Iyer's "The Global Soul" comprises seven chapters, each focusing on a different locale. "The Burning House" ponders the instability of life in California. "The Airport" describes the confusing welter of comings and goings that is Los Angeles International Airport. "The Global Marketplace" is epitomized in Hong Kong. Iyer considers Toronto the best example of "The Multiculture." He attends the Olympic "Games" in Atlanta, reflects on "The Empire" in a no-longer-imperial Britain, and concludes with a tribute to "The Alien Home" he has found in Kyoto.
Much of what he says has been said before, not only by other writers, but by Iyer himself. Indeed, after the first couple of chapters, one begins to feel a fatigue not unlike jet lag. A typical sentence runs something like this: "Everywhere is so made up of everywhere else - a polycentric anagram - that I hardly notice I'm sitting in a Parisian caf just outside Chinatown (in San Francisco), talking to a Mexican-American friend about biculturalism while a Haitian woman stops off to congratulate him on a piece he's just delivered on TV on St. Patrick's Day." One's eyes begin to glaze over, and it's a pity, since there are also some interesting points Iyer makes in the course of his ruminations.