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Book Review of Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer

Updated on February 23, 2015

In 1983 Time magazine journalist, Pico Iyer set out to rediscover the East, and observe how the Western world had encroached upon and imposed its own version of pop culture, capitalism, and consumerism on the far-flung, and often remote countries of Asia.

Indian by birth, born and educated in England, and raised in America, Iyer seems to be a walking incarnation of the convergence of East and West. It is this unique upbringing that shapes Iyer’s outlook, and allows him an unbiased vantage point from which to observe the ever changing position of the West in the East, and vice versa.

From China to the Philippines, Thailand to India, and many other stops along the way, Iyer is constantly confronted with Asian countries and people whom adopt and adapt Western culture to their own particular needs, while at the same time retaining their unique traditions and culture.

In Bali, an eleven-year old schoolgirl hands out embossed business cards for her souvenir shop by day, and performs ancient Hindu dance rituals at the temple by night to appease the gods. Teenagers sporting Western cowboy hats in Tibet pay homage to traditional death rites in which vultures consume deceased bodies, and in Japan, the all-American sport of baseball is transformed into a uniquely Japanese pastime.

Iyer is adept at pointing out the sometimes humorous, incongruous realities of Western influence on Eastern culture, yet his frank and accurate portrayals of the people he meets, and the countries he visits show that not only is it the West that influences the East, but often the East has an effect on the West as well.

Although written almost twenty years ago, Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu remains an accurate, witty depiction of some of Asia’s great countries and tourist destinations, and the meeting and exchange of Western and Asian cultures.

Pico Iyer discusses the meaning of constancy in the fast moving global village of today.


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    • profile image 6 years ago

      I found Video Nights in Katmandu at "the Bookshop" in Jor Bagh near Khan market in New Delhi. The narrative so described my feelings and so validated my observations about what was still in l990 before Sky Channel and the Kuwaiti war a very insular and specific world. I also thought the book hugely funny. Since then, and certainly after the essay "In Praise of the Humble Comma" which appeared in Time, I have bought each and every title of Mr. Iyer's. The most amazing and wonderful coincidence has been that his Dutch translator, Mr. Henk Schroeder is a much loved and admired friend of mine. I hope that Mr. Iyer continues to find places off the beaten track to tells us about. I also hope that he now that he is well known and influential, the lure of the media does not spoil his pristine vision.