The Man Within My Head by Pico Iyer
If I had one word to describe this book The Man Within My Head, it would be ‘Haunting’.
The author describes Ghosts, Gods, and Fathers through a series of short memoirs, experiences and related writings by his adopted literary father Graham Greene. He lands up in all the places Greene had traveled to. And somehow ends up finding something that is related to Greene. Sometimes it is people and sometimes spaces. Sometimes he is going through an emotion and he recalls something that Greene had written about it. And sometimes it seems he is consciously trying to find Greene in everything. And at other times you feel his journey of life is being dictated by what he has read in Greene’s writing.
Before reading this book I would not have believed that someone can be in so much of an influence on another person’s writing. A person that belongs to his father’s generation, a person he has never met and has known him only through his writings or through other’s writings on him. Since both Greene and Iyer are extremely well-traveled authors, it is difficult to say if Iyer sub-consciously followed Greene’s trails and hence found a bit of him there. Or it’s just that both of them traveled a hell lot and sometimes ended up being in the same place.
The author Pico Iyer feels that like Greene he also can not be bound to one place and call it home. But he does connect strongly to his parent’s home in California. And to his own chosen home in Japan. He talks about the multiple affairs of Greene. But he himself comes out a dedicated husband or a partner to his wife. Though Greene was always running away from something, Iyer seems more seeking and going back to where he came from. There are similarities between the two men, as they had similar education and chose the similar professions. And both are great with their work and are loved my millions if not more.
As someone who has not read Greene, it is a detailed sketch of a stranger’s writing, his mind, his psychic state, his fears, his idiosyncrasies, his style and his life. A quite American has got added to my to-be-read list. And the rest will depend on how I find this book.
It is a part literary criticism of Greene’s work that sometimes sounds like a tribute. Part memoirs of Pico Iyer, part a self-exploration of an author who finds too much resonance with a particular author’s work. Part exploration of his relationship with his own father. And part re-visiting the most haunted parts of his own life like watching his house burning in California and losing everything he owned and fatal accidents in Bolivia. He almost makes you believe in the spirits that have the power to control things around you, are your thoughts those spirits or those spirits lead you to think the way you do.
Though the author talks about Greene and his father in his mind, what he does through this writing is take you through his own mind. Through the thoughts that haunt him. Through the emotions that he goes through, through those incidents that seem to be tied. And through a string of destiny known only to him. He opens up his mind and heart to his reader. Perhaps some younger author few decades down the line will feel the same about him as he feels about Greene.
I had read it about work of art that it connects the artist and the rasik. Two people who communicate through art without ever meeting each other. This book puts the literary works also in the same category. Where the work becomes the link between two humans and can bind them together like nothing else can.
The only thing that I found distracting in the book The Man Within My Head is long text in parenthesis. They were cutting the flow of an introspecting river. This book is bound to make you think if there is an author or artist or even a family member or friend with whom you connect with so strongly. I thought about it and I am still thinking. I figured out that there are different people that I connect with for different things. No one as yet haunts me to this extent. But as I said, I am still thinking.
If you have read Pico Iyer earlier, you would read this book The Man Within My Head anyway. If you have not, I recommend you read some of his earlier travel books before you read this one.