The Half Known Life by Pico Iyer review – peace and quiet in political hotspots - The Guardian

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Having been an obsessive traveller astir of his life, opening with termly commutes to Eton from his Indian parents’ location successful California, Pico Iyer has lately been documenting the virtues of sitting still. A 2014 Ted Talk outlined the advantages – spiritual, biology – of lying backmost and reasoning of aged pilgrimages oregon of thing astatine all. This publication is simply a premix of restlessness and the couch; it sees the writer reporting connected and recalling journeys done immoderate of the world’s astir divided and chaotic places – Kashmir, Jerusalem, Sri Lanka, North Korea among others – mostly successful hunt of a spot of bid and quiet.

Iyer, present 65, has ever been successful thrall to clouds of unknowing, prizing glimpses of the ethereal successful distant corners, clocking up aerial miles and epiphanies. He spent immoderate clip with Leonard Cohen successful the 5 years helium was a Zen Buddhist monk astatine Mount Baldy, adjacent Los Angeles. He has been a person and confidant of the Dalai Lama since they met astatine Dharamshala successful 1974. He has often fixed the content of a peripatetic idiosyncratic Buddhism, without excessively overmuch of the suffering. This peculiar quest – successful hunt of the thought of paradise successful the midst of governmental complication – is thing of a summation of that roving life.

It begins successful Iran, the place, Iyer argues, that gives america some “our connection for Paradise and immoderate of our astir soulful images of it”. Thoughts of past Persia instrumentality Iyer to immoderate of the astir mystical moments of his ain beingness – “the h2o softened courtyards that had bewitched maine 1 candlelit evening successful the Alhambra, the landscaped gardens depicting paradise astir a marble tomb that had transfixed [his Japanese wife] Hiroko and maine connected our honeymoon, astatine the Taj Mahal”, and truthful connected – but they besides punctual him of the words of the Sufi writer Rumi, that if eden is within, past “one leafage is worthy much than each of Paradise”.

That religion is mostly frustrated successful modern Iran, wherever Iyer has to bash conflict with Shia bureaucracy to summation entree to the Imam Reza shrine successful Mashhad and the interior sanctums of the ayatollahs’ metropolis of Qom. Once inside, helium is live to the ironies of a paranoid surveillance authorities keeping ticker implicit past mysticism; the 1 tends to get successful the mode of the other. In bid to support his notebooks and emails from immoderate prying theocratic eyes, helium finds himself replacing the connection “Iran” with the connection “Paradise” to debar repercussions.

He wonders, backmost successful London, whether his astir pathological “longing for an perfect satellite mightiness not beryllium a benignant of curse, adjacent a heresy”. The remainder of the publication is simply a trial of that peculiar complaint, what you mightiness telephone the dharma burden, arsenic Iyer scrolls done the motivations and abiding memories of a beingness connected the road, the reasons helium was ever leaving home. It takes him backmost successful his mind’s oculus done a 1990 travel to the terrifying “People’s Paradise” of North Korea, each signifier acceptable and nary script, and past to the clip helium and his woman stumbled connected to the Cyprus Avenue of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks successful divided Belfast, and however helium was transported successful his caput to the singer’s Edenic plot “all bedewed with rain”, and from determination to Kashmir, the “paradise that had shone wrong my mother’s heart, astatine slightest until she discovered Oxford”.

This second transport is simply a carnal arsenic good arsenic a spiritual journey. What Iyer finds successful Srinagar is what helium is astatine pains to find successful each of these quests: moments of transcendence successful places surrounded by checkpoints and barbed wire. He locates his Kashmiri precocious drifting successful a gondola connected the lakes successful the centre of the past city, floating among lily pads past houses from which images of the stern faces of fundamentalist clerics regard retired crossed the water.

He is simply a deft sketcher of haiku-like scenes: “From the sundeck of the houseboat named for interior peace, I watched 4 schoolgirls successful spotless achromatic salwar kameez, achromatic shawls astir their heart-shaped faces, paddle done the quiescent of the morning.” Frustratingly, however, his curiosity seldom seems to instrumentality him beyond these aboveground descriptions; the characters helium encounters – guides and strangers and friends – seldom instrumentality connected convincing lives of their own. That prime lends this publication a benignant of fleeting mood, a sensual drift betwixt disparate and often hopeless places. The thread is the author’s elevated tendency for a benignant of aesthetic revelation, the godhead successful the mud, but progressively the places successful which helium seeks it – a cemetery successful Sri Lanka, the ghats of Varanasi – thin to merge. At 1 point, toward the end, helium finds himself astatine a spot called Bridge of Heaven extracurricular Osaka, to which 1 earthly effect mightiness be: are we astir determination yet?