Lonely Places


In Falling Off the Map, renowned travel author Pico Iyer says “Lonely Places are the places that don’t fit in; the places that Pico iyer2 PShave no seat at our international dinner tables; the places that fall between the cracks of our tidy acronyms (EEC and OPEC, OAS and NATO).” Published in 1993, Iyer’s essays capture “moods [of countries he visits] that would not change with history’s tide.”

A few examples:


North Korea, for all its anonymity — its air of Everyplace  —  did seem a distinctly East Asian place. For all across the region — in Japan and South Korea as much as in China and North Korea — one finds the same remarkable gift for regimentation and self-surrender, for hard work and discipline, as if the religious impulse had simply been channeled toward country or company or cause. It hardly seemed to matter whether the object of this devotion was nominally capitalist or communist.

What makes [Argentina] so intriguing… to the visitor, in fact, is precisely what can make it so agonizing to the resident: it has the urbanity to reflect on its steady loss of all that urbanity entails… Indeed, if conversation is one of the most stylish arts in Argentina, politics is one of the greatest sights; for the central issues of the day are played out in every street and café, in a land that seems almost to feed off soap-operatic calamity.

Cuba… vibrates with the buoyancy of a late-night, passionate, reckless people whose warmth has only been intensified by adversity… you cannot fail to see why Christopher Columbus, upon landing on the soft-breezed isle, called it “the most beautiful land ever seen.”


Iyer’s observations on life in Bhutan, Iceland, Vietnam, Paraguay and Australia are equally illuminating. His humor, extraordinary talent for simile and metaphor that arise spontaneously and naturally from his text, and above all, the varied rhythm and effortless continuity of his prose make this splendid travelogue captivating.


Tucker Cox – Zeteo contributing writer

To read Tucker’s reviews of other “classic” travel books visit his ZiR page here.


The foto of Mr. Iyer and picture of the cover of his book, courtesy of Bing Images.

Click here to visit Pico Iyer’s homepage

Read Rolf Potts’ interview of Mr. Iyer, “one of the most revered and respected travel writers alive today.”

View Pico Iyer’s TED Talk, “Where is home?

One comment

  1. Daniel D'Arezzo

    Iyer’s observations about Argentina may have been accurate in the early ’90s, but I don’t see or hear operatic, impassioned debates in the cafes a quarter century on. For nearly a dozen years, since May 25, 2003, Argentina has been subjected to kirchnerismo, a barely competent nominally socialist kleptocracy of bureaucrats and union leaders that is kept in place partly because it has offered a threadbare stability and partly because of the fear and loathing the Argentine people naturally have of the right. The Kirchners offer bread and circuses (“Futbol para todos” is an actual party slogan) and shabby patriotism (“Las Malvinas [the Falkland Islands] son argentinas” is a rallying cry). There will be elections this year and because Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is barred from a third term, it’s an open question who will succeed her. The likely favorite is the candidate nominated by Cristina’s Justicialist party, so Argentina can look forward to four more years of the same stagnant economy. I will be surprised to hear impassioned debates in the cafes. The people–and especially the young people–do not see politics as the solution to the country’s problems.


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