Of Japan, that's seldom seen
The symbols mean everything if you accept the feelings that they carry – says Pico Iyer, while describing his mother, who grew up in British India, and even in her eighties, drives to the supermarket to buy a live tree, around which to open presents on Christmas morning. The travel writer from California married a Japanese woman, a divorcee and mother of two children and after his first year, he wrote a book, 'The Lady and the Monk'. A sudden death takes him back to Japan, Kyoto in specific, and as he settles in, along with his wife in a small house, he rediscovers the country, and as he gets into a routine of long walks, visit to the temples, playing ping pong with the elderly and retired, soaking in the sights of autumn, learning the culture, the beliefs, the way of living, all of which gradually become a part of him. In 'Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells' he takes the readers along to knowing Japan beyond what a tourist sees of a country that on one side has a memory of a grave past of world wars and Hiroshima bombing carries on into the future with its traditions intact, its symbols integral to the fabric of the society. The book is as much about the country as it is about life experiences of the author as he grows older learning about life, death, and living with the consciousness of the end.
'Autumn Light…' is biographical of a personal kind, and a travelogue of an internal kind. In a way, the book is also a love story. He calls Autumn, the season of fire, and farewells. He says it poses a question – how to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. And it is in Japan that he celebrates the impermanence, enjoys the traditions and the pace of living, enjoys forming bonds. He enjoys being with his wife, whom he admires for several of her qualities. The book charms intrigues and entertains you, but there are places along the course of the book when the pace slows down and at such places, it's Pico Iyer's floating prose that comes to rescue and you stay immersed in it.
While writing about his personal journey, he meanders through some of the enchanting neighbourhoods of Kyoto, the clubs, the streets, the temples, the mountains, nature and life that has its own pace, the people, their eccentricities, beliefs, etc. And he feels its Autumn that defines the place. 'Cherry blossoms, pretty and frothy as schoolgirls' giggles, are the face the country likes to present to the world, all pink and white eroticism; but it's the reddening of maple leaves under a blaze of ceramic blue-skies that is the place's secret heart, he says. And he takes the readers on a discovery of this country, which he has fallen in love with so much.