Book Review: The Global Soul

The Global Soul:  Jetlag, Shopping Malls, And The Search For Home, by Pico Iyer

The more I read from Pico Iyer, the less I like him as an author.  This book helps explain why.  The author and I are rarely further apart than when we are closest in terms of our experience, and this book is ample demonstration of that.  When one reads 300 pages of the author whining about how hard it is to live as a global nomad but at the same time looks down on those who have a simple and straightfoward identity as being provincial and unworthy of respect on those grounds, while at the same time refusing to strive for the moral greatness of godly transnationalism, it is hard to be kind on the author.  I am by no means unfamiliar to the irritations of travel [1], but my shared experience with the author only makes me more hostile to his glorification of snobbery towards those who are not jetsetting hipster elites like he is as well as his hostility to godly morality, which he demonstrates through his praise of transgressive cultural festivals and his own spending time in a nightclub while in Hong Kong noting carefully the ethnicity of the go-go dancers.

This book is divided into several chapters that look at global nomadism from several different perspectives, most of the more or less equally tedious.  The author begins, perhaps inauspiciously, by complaining about his housefire like some poor little rich boy whining about how he built a house in a fire-prone area and then has the gall to complain when it nearly inevitably burns up.  After that the author talks about living in an airport, mostly LAX, and what that means.  As might be imagined, it is a somewhat unsavory place, but the author does not appear to mind that, as he paints a picture of those who inhabit its spaces.  The author then talks about the global marketplace, showing businesspeople and those who cater to them and their own itinerant journeys, mostly through looking at a classmate of the author’s who lives in Hong Kong.  The author goes to Toronto to see the superficiality of multicultural society, rags on Atlanta for being too provincial in a look at the Olympic games and its model of multiculturalism, while trying to cheer on some culture-shocked Bhutan Olympians, examines the dregs and aftertaste of the British Empire, and then makes some speculative comments on the alien home and what it involves.

What would have made this book more appealing?  A great deal of this book would have been better with more kindness.  The author appears to notice the plight of nomadic Filipino women working abroad for remittance money, but does not appear to be kind. He notices that his friend is kind for telling his employees to go home when they have already been working after midnight, which seems a bit inappropriate.  The author is out of touch, and is clearly someone who enjoys his elite status, even when it means serving as a walking billboard for Olympic sponsors when he reports on the Olympics as an approved staff writer.  Yet the author’s privilege appears unearned either for his compassion to others or his own personal decency, neither of which appear to be in the offering.  To be sure, the author is skilled at writing prose, but skill without character does not go a long way, and accounts in large part for the growing resentment and hostility I have felt for the author as I have become increasingly familiar with his body of work and increasingly hostile to his worldview and behavior.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: The Global Soul

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Border | Edge Induced Cohesion

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