'If I were to choose a secret companion, an unofficial alter ego, I would most likely fasten on someone more dashing, more decisive, less unsettled than Greene.'
But Greene 'took residence' inside the author's head, to the point where he had an eerie feeling that his life was playing out on the lines of the plots Greene had constructed decades ago. And so, as if instructed by an inner voice, Pico Iyer writes about the man within his head, in the process unraveling and understanding the man who perhaps influenced his life most deeply - his father. It's a tribute and a travelogue. And, it's a treat!
Iyer divides his book into three parts - Ghosts, Gods and Fathers. He takes you to his elementary school in Oxford, the house on the hill in California, the sleepiest villages in Ethiopia and Colombia and the fast-forward life in cosmopolitan cities.
He describes the beauty and peace you feel in a monastery - 'We could feel the stillness, the clarity in a place like this, as if murmured prayers, over years, unending, had polished the silence till it shone, the way workers in fancy hotels polish the windows and the wooden floors' - and recounts the thrill and rush of chaos - 'People were pushing and crushing and being pushed into a little shrine where sat a Holy infant. Families kept shuffling in and out of the interior - a perpetual commotion - as clapping rose from the overflow crowd next door.'
He lays open the remotest corners of his mind, his hopes and hurts, and the paradoxes in life that baffle him.
'Greene became the way I could unlock something in the imagination; he was the way it could get into places in myself that were otherwise well-defended'
And just like Greene, Iyer betrays the contradictions in himself. A novelist and travel writer, so much under Greene's spell, this is what he says about the latter -
'I couldn't bear reading the early stories, so bitter and cruel and thick with dissatisfaction. And his travel books were a near-perfect example of how not to write or think about travel.'
The book dwells at length on Greene's works, to the point where it can get frustrating. You struggle to remember the characters and their idiosyncrasies that are being discussed, often feeling that you haven't grasped the full import of the author's contention.
Iyer has once again shown what a brilliant storyteller he is, weaving ideas and experiences into a tale of self realisation under the shadow of Greene's life and writings.
Published by: Penguin Books India; Imprint: Hamish Hamilton; 256 pages; Category: Non-Fiction, Travel; Price: Rs. 499