The Man Within My Head, by Pico Iyer
I must admit I likely would not have read this book or any book by Pico Iyer were it not for a recommendation I had received from a friend (and former instructor, and the author of some books that I have reviewed) after he saw me read and review a large amount of the Graham Greene oeuvre. Admittedly, this book is likely going to be appreciated more by those who are fond of Graham Greene’s writing than I am , but the author definitely views Graham Greene’s writing and life with a considerable ambivalence, as I also would, albeit for different reasons. Ultimately, though, this is a book you care about most if you care about the author or about Graham Greene. I found neither of the people to be all that worthwhile or interesting during the course of reading the book. The author shamelessly recycles aspects of his books from one volume to another, as I am beginning to see after having read three of his books, and his thoughts on Graham Greene are not really all that insightful. Nor is his own life or his own attempts to make a life in the in-between spaces between various aspects of a complicated background and identity all that interesting for me as well.
This book of about 250 pages is divided into about seventeen chapters, and it tells the story of the author coming to terms with his own life and his relationship with his father and his love of travel through an examination of the life and travels of Graham Greene. Admittedly, this book was not particularly enjoyable for me to read because the more one finds out about the life and politics of Graham Greene, the more unlikable he is. The author tries to make much of Greene’s generosity, but much of it is immoral and even treasonous, given his generosity of buying houses for his French mistress and his Swedish mistress and being a generally terrible husband and an atrocious Catholic convert and someone whose need to avoid intimacy was balanced on the other hand by anonymous generosity to other writers and even generosity to a friend who was one of the worst traitors of the Cold War (Kim Philby). Iyer himself wrestles with his Indian heritage, his Anglo-American dual identity on top of that, and his own writings and travels, which are modestly interesting, at least, but not something I would have read without a recommendation.
Again, this is a book that you will likely care about if you care about the personal life and travels of either Pico Iyer or Graham Greene. I don’t find Pico Iyer to be that interesting of a person–for all of his writing about himself in his travel books, and I don’t find Graham Greene’s personal life or mass of contradictions in his deeply flawed and corrupt nature all that worthwhile to examine. This book was not an active waste of time, but it was not a book I really enjoyed because neither the author nor the subject had a perspective I found all that appealing. And in a world where perspective and worldview take on increasingly greater importance, it becomes less and less enjoyable for me to read something where I disagree on basics and fundamentals with the author. Perhaps if I had read this book in the context of reflecting on my own complicated identity, I would find much more to enjoy, but I don’t find Greene’s faith in humanity to be all that worthwhile to examine, and Pico Iyer strikes me as more of a secular humanist and whiny hipster elite to be someone that I care to read more than I already have.
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