Pico Iyer’s Definition of Home


Jaime Gelman, Maroon-News Staff

“Home is what you take for granted, and I like that I can’t take anything for granted,” Pico Iyer said this past Thursday during his staged interview in Love Auditorium as part of this year’s Living Writers series. Iyer, a famous travel writer and a household name among avid travelers, does not consider himself to be from just one place: he was born in England, he is Indian, his mother lives in California and he spends half of every year in Japan with his wife.

In addition to traveling all around the world, spending only about two weeks in each location, Iyer has written over ten books, some of which include Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, The Global Soul and Sun After Dark. The prolific author also publishes articles regularly in “Time,” “The New York Review of Books,” “The New York Times” and many other publications.

Iyer opened his talk humorously by mentioning how he tried Slices, the Zagat-worthy pizza joint, within ten minutes of being in Hamilton. He was also impressed by the giant posters of the Living Writers authors on buildings downtown, joking about how even dead writers do not have that.

He read the opening of one of his short stories, claiming that he was giving his audience a chance to catch up on their sleep. Yet, this powerful non-fiction story about his house and all of his possessions burning down was the exact opposite of sleep-inducing.

“To an extent, so much of the world is a burning house,” Iyer said after he finished his excerpt. “The question is: what do we do with the ashes?”

After his quick reading, he participated in a staged interview with Associate Professor Jennifer Brice and Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English Jane Pinchin. One of the many topics they discussed was Iyer’s broad definition of home, which is apparent when one realizes how many different places he can call home. In the end, he claimed that his family and friends are the pillars of his existence, and he is happy not to be routed to any one physical location. After all, according to Iyer once you attach yourself to a particular place, it becomes difficult to view that place objectively.

Even though he lives in Japan for many months of the year, Iyer does not eat Japanese food, speak Japanese or wear Japanese clothing. Even more surprisingly, he has been living there on a tourist’s visa. Despite all of these complications, Japan is still one of the places that Iyer considers home.

“The beauty of Japan is that it’s made the England I know indecipherable,” Iyer said.

Iyer makes a note to travel to foreign and strange places, particularly in his book “Sun After Dark,” where he visits many poor countries and cities that most tourists would not normally visit. It is only through traveling to these unique places that he is able to meet such fascinating, and often famous, people. Iyer had many interesting stories to tell, most notably about President Obama, the Dalai Lama and Leonard Cohen, that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

“Travel, like anything, asks you what your motivations really are,” Iyer said.

Iyer disclosed that he had taken three flights the day before his talk and was taking three more the following day. That busy schedule is anything but unusual for Iyer, even if jetlag still affects him.

“Given fairly intense movement like that, I need intense stillness, too,” Iyer said.

Needless to say, with the thundering applause that filled Love Auditorium, stillness was not something that Iyer experienced as he closed his lecture.