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The author of Video Night in Kathmandu ups the ante on himself in this sublimely evocative and acerbically funny tour through the world's loneliest and most eccentric places. From Iceland to Bhutan to Argentina, Iyer remains both uncannily observant and hilarious. The author of Video Night in Kathmandu ups the ante on himself in this sublimely evocative and acerbically funny tour through the world's loneliest and most eccentric places. From Iceland to Bhutan to Argentina, Iyer remains both uncannily observant and hilarious.


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The author of Video Night in Kathmandu ups the ante on himself in this sublimely evocative and acerbically funny tour through the world's loneliest and most eccentric places. From Iceland to Bhutan to Argentina, Iyer remains both uncannily observant and hilarious. The author of Video Night in Kathmandu ups the ante on himself in this sublimely evocative and acerbically funny tour through the world's loneliest and most eccentric places. From Iceland to Bhutan to Argentina, Iyer remains both uncannily observant and hilarious.

30 review for Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile

    I can'ttttt anymore, I'm gonna die of boredom. I was so looking forward to reading this book, but it is SO BLAH! I was expecting more of a travelogue style of writing, not a completely stand-offish overview. The author didn't really get into experiencing these cultures, it seemed. He gave a sentence here and there exchanged with a local at a restaurant or bar, but that was about the extent of it. I just couldn't trudge through the rest. I thought about maybe adding this back to my to-read for la I can'ttttt anymore, I'm gonna die of boredom. I was so looking forward to reading this book, but it is SO BLAH! I was expecting more of a travelogue style of writing, not a completely stand-offish overview. The author didn't really get into experiencing these cultures, it seemed. He gave a sentence here and there exchanged with a local at a restaurant or bar, but that was about the extent of it. I just couldn't trudge through the rest. I thought about maybe adding this back to my to-read for later, in case I'm just temporarily not connecting with this book, but I know I will dread ever picking it up again, so I'll just cut my losses.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Daren

    A quick look over the other reviews and ratings reinforces my view that this book was very hit and miss. Consisting of eight individual travel non-fiction short stories in different locations, it really was a mixture. All were written in the period 1987 to 1992, and the author has specifically noted that they were not updated with the power of hindsight or retrospectively edited, which means they become a snapshot in history. They are all linked in that the author considers them Lonely Places or p A quick look over the other reviews and ratings reinforces my view that this book was very hit and miss. Consisting of eight individual travel non-fiction short stories in different locations, it really was a mixture. All were written in the period 1987 to 1992, and the author has specifically noted that they were not updated with the power of hindsight or retrospectively edited, which means they become a snapshot in history. They are all linked in that the author considers them Lonely Places or places that are 'falling off the map'. I have been to five of the eight places, and while admitting that the places change over time, and experiences are different depending on how you travel and who you travel with - some were true to form, and some quite different. Briefly, they consist of: North Korea (1990) - a very good, overview of a tourist trip to North Korea, albeit predictably sarcastic (not a criticism, as how could any sensible person not find aspects of North Korea's rule absurd?), and an interesting read. 5/5 Argentina (1990) - seemed very dated and didn't resemble the Argentina I experienced around five years after this. Not particularly interesting. 2/5 Cuba (1987-1992) - a more in-depth analysis based on multiple visits - interesting and wider ranging. 4/5 Iceland (1991) - a somewhat negative portrait of Iceland, over the winter period, again not my experience of visiting there (albeit some ten years after). Readable at 3/5 Bhutan (1989) - More than anything, this chapter portrayed Bhutan as a frustrating place, where the author perhaps didn't achieve what he set out to. Disappointing at 2/5 Vietnam (1991) - this chapter came across as a study in opposites - comparing the former North with the former South. It was ok, but seemed dragged out. 3/5 Paraguay - This was another long read -Nazi war criminals, government corruption, military dictatorships, the rich/poor divide. All fairly negative and drawn out. 2/5 Australia - a brief overview of the character of Australia - amusing enough, but not very deep. 4/5 Which seems to add up to 25/40, or just over 3/5, which seems about right!

  3. 4 out of 5

    dianne

    Wonderful appreciation for the absurd, especially the nuevo-Inglesa. His views on these out-of-time places are often hilarious, always well expressed. I remember my first trip to Argentina, traipsing around the chic Buenos Aires hood of Recoleta, when my eye was caught by a haute couture boutique showing - instead of the usual “Paris, Milan, Beverly Hills” - a women’s top saying “Bronx, Compton, Santa Ana” (three of the least haute hoods in the USA). For once, i dashed inside a shop of this sort Wonderful appreciation for the absurd, especially the nuevo-Inglesa. His views on these out-of-time places are often hilarious, always well expressed. I remember my first trip to Argentina, traipsing around the chic Buenos Aires hood of Recoleta, when my eye was caught by a haute couture boutique showing - instead of the usual “Paris, Milan, Beverly Hills” - a women’s top saying “Bronx, Compton, Santa Ana” (three of the least haute hoods in the USA). For once, i dashed inside a shop of this sort and tried to buy it. “Lo siento,” the saleswoman sighed, “está rasgado” (I’m sorry, it’s torn). I assured her i didn’t care, she assured me I did, and wouldn’t sell it. Iyer captures these precious bits of silliness well. I have visited half of the places he visits in this book and think his insights are spot-on. We may know that Paraguay’s questionable national hero managed to kill off 88% of his countrymen in the 19th century war he declared (with an ego approximating Trump's) simultaneously against Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. But who knew: “...when his first son was born,” (to La Concubina Irlandesa, a hooker he brought from Paris to Asunción) “Francisco Solano Lopez had ordered a 101 gun salute, and eleven buildings were destroyed.” I adore that stuff. And expressed (in Iceland, during the no sun a t’all months) more lucidly without the claws of a first-language’s idioms: “Especially at this time of year, people have many different feelings here...In the dark they have much time to think of God - and of other things in that direction.” Almost 30 years old, but a worthwhile read. Both time and place are reflected in a black and white, slightly fuzzy Instamatic photo, with love.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    That Pico Iyer - how is possible to be so erudite and entertaining as he is? What a great idea, to group a bunch of places as disparate as Iceland and Australia together and reveal their commonality as Lonely Places - not so much places where people might be lonely as places that have "fallen off the map", or fallen out of time - Cuba is a particularly good example of this being once or twice or thrice removed from the Westernized, globalized, relentlessly forward-looking mainstream way of life That Pico Iyer - how is possible to be so erudite and entertaining as he is? What a great idea, to group a bunch of places as disparate as Iceland and Australia together and reveal their commonality as Lonely Places - not so much places where people might be lonely as places that have "fallen off the map", or fallen out of time - Cuba is a particularly good example of this being once or twice or thrice removed from the Westernized, globalized, relentlessly forward-looking mainstream way of life that has laminated the globe in recent decades. Not all of the places appeal to nostalgia-lovers - on North Korea, for instance, I think I'll pass; but how funny Pico Iyer makes his stay there: "People say that Pyongyang is a dreary city, but i found no shortage of diversions there: I was taken to the subway stations[...:], and to the Thermal Power Station; to the Korean Revolutionary Museum, and to a performance by the Korean people's Army circus (whose artists wielded guns while doing handstands and chanted slogans while revolving in midair)." I can't always handle the armchair travel books about glorious Tuscan villas because it makes me too unhappy not to be able to up and leave right away; but Pico Iyer's writings let me think and understand more about the world without feeling too envious about it: pure delight.

  5. 4 out of 5

    A Man Called Ove

    I wouldnt have picked up Iyer again after reading his 'Video Night in Kathmandu', but was drawn by a friend's reco and d super-selection of places - North Korea, Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, Bhutan, Paraguay. Also Vietnam and Australia but have read a bit about them especially the latter bcoz of cricketing articles too. The writing isnt bad, it just lacks conversations and 'joy of idleness' as Theroux put it. Each place starts off well and there r some superb observations, but then gets into a rut. I wouldnt have picked up Iyer again after reading his 'Video Night in Kathmandu', but was drawn by a friend's reco and d super-selection of places - North Korea, Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, Bhutan, Paraguay. Also Vietnam and Australia but have read a bit about them especially the latter bcoz of cricketing articles too. The writing isnt bad, it just lacks conversations and 'joy of idleness' as Theroux put it. Each place starts off well and there r some superb observations, but then gets into a rut. And pieces seem to end abruptly especially this is not a single continuous journey. Mixed-bag but at less than 200 pages maybe worth a try bcoz of d selection.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Manu

    The timestamp for the first chapter is 1990. I imagine myself then, 26 years ago, cognizant of the places being referred to in the book only thanks to an atlas, and a penchant for remembering country-capital-currency courtesy school quizzes. Just text in the head, with no images to go along, in a world before the internet. What then, are these lonely places? From Iceland up there to Australia down south and from North Korea to the right and Paraguay to the left (ideologically, just the opposite! The timestamp for the first chapter is 1990. I imagine myself then, 26 years ago, cognizant of the places being referred to in the book only thanks to an atlas, and a penchant for remembering country-capital-currency courtesy school quizzes. Just text in the head, with no images to go along, in a world before the internet. What then, are these lonely places? From Iceland up there to Australia down south and from North Korea to the right and Paraguay to the left (ideologically, just the opposite!) Pico writes about seven places (the others being Vietnam, Cuba and Bhutan) that have seemingly exiled themselves from the world. In Pico's words, "Lonely Spaces are not just isolated places, for loneliness is a state of mind". Australia is probably the one place that can be deemed 'alone' (in terms of geography) too, but all of the other places are just that - lonely, despite being inhabited by populations vibrant in their own way, or being surrounded by nations that are seemingly not too different from them. "More than in space, then, it is in time that Lonely Places are often exiled, and it is their very remoteness from the present tense that gives them their air of haunted glamour." As I read, I was reminded of the Tolstoy quote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Each lonely place was lonely in its own way, living a distorted reality that was unique to itself and understood only by those living it. There was something surreal about reading of kids watching Bruce Lee in remote Argentina, the Korean population in Paraguay, Thai restaurants in Reykjavik, a Cao Dai faith in Vietnam in which Lao Tzu Jesus, Joan of Arc, Shakespeare etc are deities. I also found Pico's exploration of telephone directories to be very interesting. It was probably the internet of the pre-internet era, and he seems to have found many quirks within them! The writing style is stellar as it always is! His powers of observation, and the ability to prise out things that lie far beneath the surface continue to amaze me. As does the skill to encapsulate the soul of a place with one pithy phrase. Take, for example, Australia - English institutions and American lifestyles...and a terra incognita deep inside. Despite what he sees and experiences, there is hardly any judgment, aside from the sharp wit, and even that is cushioned by empathy and self deprecatory humour. Watch out for the fantastic chapter names, another example of how he manages to find exactly the right words, the ones that magically fit together, and gives the reader a vivid portrayal of not just what he looks at, but what he sees as well. In 26 years, much would have changed, and thus these fantastic travel essays are probably a piece of contemporary history. Many of these countries have probably learnt to posture, and that's what makes the book even more special. For it tells us that there was a time, when they were just lonely places, and "one of the last corners of the world"

  7. 5 out of 5

    Preethi

    What a beautiful book!! With literature so beautiful that it makes you want to put the book down so you can go over the sentences in your mind again, and mention of intelligent references all over making you reach out for the encyclopedia and set in places so far removed from the world that they make you curious, this book is just perfect. I've been a fan of Iyer's for a long time from his TED talks and essays in magazines but now I know it's for a lifetime. The man knows how to travel, what to lo What a beautiful book!! With literature so beautiful that it makes you want to put the book down so you can go over the sentences in your mind again, and mention of intelligent references all over making you reach out for the encyclopedia and set in places so far removed from the world that they make you curious, this book is just perfect. I've been a fan of Iyer's for a long time from his TED talks and essays in magazines but now I know it's for a lifetime. The man knows how to travel, what to look for in a new place and how to convey what he is feeling in that moment. How else will you make a book written about lonely countries in the 1990s still relevant 25 years later when the reader is well aware that the conditions mentioned in the book should long be over in that country! At once I was in many places... Shuddered at the thought of Juche and Our Beloved Leader of the unfortunate Korea; amused and interested about Peronism and the pseudo-aristocracy of Argentina; excited at the possibility of visiting Cuba now that the doors are opened; amused by the structure of the society in Iceland; heart full of longing at the immense peace and beauty when Bhutan is mentioned; for the first time, read about Saigon and Vietnam and the differences; feel terrible and also weird-ed out for Paraguay and at last, get lost in the vast continent of Australia. All of this, from my couch, with rich words and sentences for company and the thought of one man living it all... Just brilliant!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    An interesting idea for a group of travel essays, include countries that are isolated either by geography, by politics, or socially. Somewhat dated in that I'm sure that some of the countries included are very different now than they were in the early 90's, such as Argentina and Paraguay. There's some funny bits, but the problem I have with the book is that Iyer writes like a well trained journalist. Meaning that he doesn't get involved with anyone, there's very little interaction with the local An interesting idea for a group of travel essays, include countries that are isolated either by geography, by politics, or socially. Somewhat dated in that I'm sure that some of the countries included are very different now than they were in the early 90's, such as Argentina and Paraguay. There's some funny bits, but the problem I have with the book is that Iyer writes like a well trained journalist. Meaning that he doesn't get involved with anyone, there's very little interaction with the locals anywhere in this book. It's entirely made up of quirky facts about each location, and quirky things that happen to him while traveling. Which would be fine if there were some kind of discussion of how travel in these countries affected him, or changed his outlook. He is entirely disengaged from all situations, as a journalist is supposed to be, which unfortunately makes for a tiring travel book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sairam Krishnan

    A lovely collection of Pico Iyer's travel pieces for various magazines, brought together under a theme that is intriguing, and immensely relatable. Pico Iyer's introductory essay to the book is extraordinary writing, and I will come back to it again and again. The essays themselves are mixed things, a couple of them I loved, a couple did nothing for me, and another was just about okay reading. In all of them, however, Iyer's remarkable command of the travel writer's idiom shines through. You may A lovely collection of Pico Iyer's travel pieces for various magazines, brought together under a theme that is intriguing, and immensely relatable. Pico Iyer's introductory essay to the book is extraordinary writing, and I will come back to it again and again. The essays themselves are mixed things, a couple of them I loved, a couple did nothing for me, and another was just about okay reading. In all of them, however, Iyer's remarkable command of the travel writer's idiom shines through. You may not enjoy a couple of pieces here, but you can certainly enjoy the man's writing; it's nothing short of masterly. Maybe the better approach would be to not read them all in one go. This way, you avoid comparing one with the other. Spread out over a week, perhaps an essay every morning, this book could be an intellectual stimulant unlike any other.

  10. 4 out of 5

    May

    Having taken a growingly serious interest in travel writing, and having wanted to read Pico Iyer ever since I came across this quote, "Kindness is water, religion is like tea. You can survive without tea, you can't survive without water," I decided to pick up Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World two days ago. In six eloquently crafted essays, Iyer introduces us to six different places, each fascinating and lonely in its own right. What makes a lonely place? According to Iyer, lonel Having taken a growingly serious interest in travel writing, and having wanted to read Pico Iyer ever since I came across this quote, "Kindness is water, religion is like tea. You can survive without tea, you can't survive without water," I decided to pick up Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World two days ago. In six eloquently crafted essays, Iyer introduces us to six different places, each fascinating and lonely in its own right. What makes a lonely place? According to Iyer, lonely places have no seat at our international dinner tables all are marching to the beat of a different satellite drummer develop tics and manias and heresies. They pine, they brood, they molder are generally sure that their time is about to come are often poor places, because poverty breeds wonkiness and a greater ability to visualize than to realize dreams    are often small countries, because smallness gets forgotten and, most poignantly of all: attract lonely people  Unsurprisingly, the enigmatic and remote North Korea tops the list of lonely places in this collection. Argentina is there, too, a place with people "living in a dream" despite the economic collapse happening around them. It is followed by Cuba, which carries a "sense of wistfulness, of a life arrested in midbreath." Iyer captures the "seduction" of Cuba's loneliness, describing how "the whole island has the ramshackle glamour of an abandoned stage set." Then, there is Iceland, which has a mystic quality to it; we, like Iyer, are swept away by its "certain kind of magic" as well as struck by its darkness. Bhutan is the "hidden kingdom" that, like North Korea, shuts itself from the outside world (both are vastly different, however). Vietnam is beautifully described as "a pretty girl with her face pressed up against the window of the dance hall, waiting to be invited in." Paraguay is the "orphaned land," and the title of the essay - "Up for sale, or adoption" - is sadly fitting. Finally, we have Australia, which perhaps does not strike the modern reader as that much of a "lonely place" yet nonetheless comes across as "a country that feels as if it has fallen off the planet" in Iyer's essay. In all essays, Iyer shows how the busiest of regions have a lonely face to them (e.g. the touristy Saigon side of Vietnam vs the abandoned Hanoi). He sews together every place's people, history and geography to present a portrait of loneliness to which local residents may not even be attuned. Iyer also alludes to other writers, such as Márquez and Lawrence (this is something I have noticed travel writers often do). The reason why it is so lovely to read Iyer is because he comes across as a bold explorer, deciding "to try one last time to walk across the deserted street" in Pyongyang, and daring to accept a stranger's offer to board a new (and risky) plane to Bhutan. He has a keen eye for details, missing nothing about the different dimensions of a city. And he is as much of an intensely involved observer as he is an outsider, a unwelcome guest at certain Korean restaurants in Paraguay. We are often reminded of the fact that lonely places attract lonely people. Yet beyond the loneliness of deserted landscapes and oblivious dreamers, there are also evolving cultures and reinvented people, foreign influences and more travelers. This book was published in 1993, and not all the places it describes are so lonely anymore. Yet as Iyer reminds us, "there will never be a shortage of Lonely Places, any more than there will ever be of lonely people."

  11. 4 out of 5

    S.

    Pico Iyer might be the most difficult contemporary writer to summarize or review. a product of Eton, Oxford (Double First Class degree) and Harvard, he might very well have a 180 I.Q. one is intimidated by his intellect and academic training. Time Magazine. 10 cover stories. anything you write about him, aren't you merely setting yourself up for a devastating cross-interrogation? as I wrote in my first review of his work, a noticeable feature of his work is the continual and continuing innocence Pico Iyer might be the most difficult contemporary writer to summarize or review. a product of Eton, Oxford (Double First Class degree) and Harvard, he might very well have a 180 I.Q. one is intimidated by his intellect and academic training. Time Magazine. 10 cover stories. anything you write about him, aren't you merely setting yourself up for a devastating cross-interrogation? as I wrote in my first review of his work, a noticeable feature of his work is the continual and continuing innocence of outlook. Iyer might not quite be Pangloss and he's certainly no next-door Ned Flanders, but it's certainly fair to say that in his gently flowing prose there's a continual and subtle call to better oneself and seek the path of gentleness and humanity. Thoreau and Emerson inform his work; so do Graham Greene and Hermann Hesse. we can see the better-(wo)man that humanity can achieve. why, wonders Iyer, do we not simply take that step to become Her/Him? I'm not sure that Iyer, if subject to a brutal and relentless physical assault in a dark alley would necessarily fight back. if a next-door neighbor began spying and harassing him, chasing him from market to workplace to friend's house, would Iyer ever raise a fist or buy a high-powered weapon? I don't know. and to that degree, at least 20-30% of humanity--whether African, European, American, Australian or whatever, can and will never understand Iyer. and doesn't Iyer's own photograph http://www.goodreads.com/photo/author... show the passage of time on a gentle-person's philosophy? does not Iyer keep smiling at a world that is slightly more corrupt than the person inside? in any case, this turns into digression...okay, let's return to the book.... FALLING OFF THE MAP is a series of restless and flowing travel stories from some of the places that are less traveled in the world. from Iceland to Australian, Bhutan to Paraguay, Iyer goes to where the package tourist doesn't, he specifically avoids London-Paris-Istanbul-Rio-Tokyo-Shanghai because there are the tourist touchstones of the globe, and if he is unlike Kevin Sites in that he is not seeking poverty, devastation, and war, nevertheless the passage to less-developed areas does awaken a humanist's appreciation of the complexities of global relations. perhaps to some degree western prosperity depends on broken regions, and perhaps Australia and Iceland have their own hidden darker sides. but Iyer does not dally. he does not question whether the world is necessarily twisted. it's off to the next destination. it's a gentle reference to the wife who awaits at home. it's a quiet introspection into the nature of man without passage oneself into the heart of darkness himself. I can't offer absolute accolades to somebody caught up in the lace-and-silver quasi-Victorian worldview, who looks at a devastated drug-jungle and hears bird songs, who needs to call his wife for two hours even though his restless feet are taking him to cuba, who chides the provincialism of some small and forgotten western backwater without wondering whether those people feel they are trapped there. the fact of the matter is that your next-door neighbor, the one with a gentle and daily smile who keeps to himself might be keeping three prisoners in an underground cell he's dug out himself. this is reality, Pico! I wish we could all study at Oxford!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christine Zibas

    "Lonely places are not just isolated places, for loneliness is a state of mind.... Loneliness cuts in both directions, and there are 101 kinds of solitude." For Pico Iyer, the countries he examines in this book vary widely in their solitude. In some cases, it's geography (like Australia); in others (such as North Korea), it's a political decision. Hence, the 101 kinds of solitude. The unfortunate thing about this book is that it was written in 1993, and with any travel book from that time, some th "Lonely places are not just isolated places, for loneliness is a state of mind.... Loneliness cuts in both directions, and there are 101 kinds of solitude." For Pico Iyer, the countries he examines in this book vary widely in their solitude. In some cases, it's geography (like Australia); in others (such as North Korea), it's a political decision. Hence, the 101 kinds of solitude. The unfortunate thing about this book is that it was written in 1993, and with any travel book from that time, some things are bound to be dated. Time changes things, people change them, even countries often blaze new trails in their history (take Cuba, one of Iyer's subjects). Yet there is much to love here, as Iyer's observations often hit deep into who we are as readers, as travelers, as humans in the world. That Iyer is able to look at these lonely places with a fresh eye, not jaded by so much travel (he's written tons, both books and in magazines, which is how I first ran across his unique name and voice). Many of his observations stand the test of time and speak to the character of these lonely lands' inhabitants. This is a book well worth reading, as is anything else you might pick up by him. He's funny, insightful, and unfailingly kind, even when it might be more expedient to take the easy jab at the absurd. Iyer is the ultimate traveler, who can see himself in every lonely country.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    A fascinating look at many different remote places that exist within the increasingly connected world. The most fascinating thing, I found, was that even though it has been about 15 years since these pieces were written, most of it is still pretty accurate. The author's visits included Bhutan, Iceland, North Korea, Paraguay, Vietnam and Australia. I think that Vietnam may be more modern now than described, with more connection to the world, but I don't know that the other places have changed. Au A fascinating look at many different remote places that exist within the increasingly connected world. The most fascinating thing, I found, was that even though it has been about 15 years since these pieces were written, most of it is still pretty accurate. The author's visits included Bhutan, Iceland, North Korea, Paraguay, Vietnam and Australia. I think that Vietnam may be more modern now than described, with more connection to the world, but I don't know that the other places have changed. Australia has always been modern, just its remoteness was celebrated in the book and nothing will ever be able to change that. Iceland's population of immigrants has expanded, but its culture is still pretty insular. Bhutan and Paraguay are places you never hear about at all and seldome think about; I doubt they have changed much. North Korea is still as paranoid, self-obsessed, and completely otherworldly as ever, even with the change of leadership. I enjoyed a virtual visit to all of these places. Other than Iceland and Australia, though, no real desire to visit them in person.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jenni

    UGH. This easily goes down as one of the most boring travel books I've ever read! The concept seemed good: writing about some of the loneliest places on the planet. But does lonely have to equate to boring? I can't say I even understand why the author traveled at all, except to come home and write a boring book about it; not a shred of the author's personality or a sense of humor could be found in these 200 dry and impersonal pages. The fact that the book is severely dated (published in 1993) pr UGH. This easily goes down as one of the most boring travel books I've ever read! The concept seemed good: writing about some of the loneliest places on the planet. But does lonely have to equate to boring? I can't say I even understand why the author traveled at all, except to come home and write a boring book about it; not a shred of the author's personality or a sense of humor could be found in these 200 dry and impersonal pages. The fact that the book is severely dated (published in 1993) probably didn't help, either, but even a dated book can be entertaining or provocative or insightful...not this one. Thankfully, I've traveled to nearly half of these countries in the last 10 years and have vastly different feelings about them (which did lead me to wonder just how much has changed in terms of the places being "lonely" ones). Overall, a total snooze, full of embellished descriptors and flowery language that took away from establishing anything of worthwhile interest. Don't bother.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Marie Angell

    Pico Iyer is an oustanding travel writer. Or I should say, writer. He has an insight, a way of really drinking in a place, that makes me feel I'm there. This book is a particularly timely read in a weird way. He writes about places that are isolated or undervisited in the mid-1990's, including Cuba and North Korea. Most of these countries are still off the beaten path, for one reason or another, yet still quite in the news today. North Korea in particular gives unexpected insight into the current Pico Iyer is an oustanding travel writer. Or I should say, writer. He has an insight, a way of really drinking in a place, that makes me feel I'm there. This book is a particularly timely read in a weird way. He writes about places that are isolated or undervisited in the mid-1990's, including Cuba and North Korea. Most of these countries are still off the beaten path, for one reason or another, yet still quite in the news today. North Korea in particular gives unexpected insight into the current political tensions. We are able to dig a little deeper into the mindset of a totalitarian regime, peeking behind the curtain a bit (but only bit, for even Pico can see only a little ways into this heavily controlled nation). Many books about travel don't stand the test of time. For now, this book does. Highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Syed Saqi

    In a communication skills class in college, my prof (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akash_K...) considered Pico Iyer as a benchmark in today's world in terms of written prose. Now I understand. In a collection of essays about his travels across the globe, Pico has a unique sense of capturing the essence of the place. He could be philosophical, interested , concerned and yet be blase, in the same sentence. His essays leave a lot to imagination, and yet revealing all the character of the places. I h In a communication skills class in college, my prof (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akash_K...) considered Pico Iyer as a benchmark in today's world in terms of written prose. Now I understand. In a collection of essays about his travels across the globe, Pico has a unique sense of capturing the essence of the place. He could be philosophical, interested , concerned and yet be blase, in the same sentence. His essays leave a lot to imagination, and yet revealing all the character of the places. I have never read anyone so lyrical in prose. It may sound oxymoronic, yeah, until you read him. I only wish he would have written (travel, he would have done) about Iran, Central africa, and last but not the least,Bengaluru, my town now. For now, i will have to be content with his op-eds in NYT and elsewhere...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hildur

    A fun and entertaining view on some of the more unique places on Earth. A bit outdated now of course, but still an interesting look at the atmosphere in a few remote areas 25 years ago, including Iceland. Surprisingly I quite liked his account of my home country, I think he pretty much nailed it. Again, some of the information is outdated, but I feel that he quite captures the spirit of Iceland and Icelanders in a way that I could not have done myself. Besides from Iceland I enjoyed the chapters A fun and entertaining view on some of the more unique places on Earth. A bit outdated now of course, but still an interesting look at the atmosphere in a few remote areas 25 years ago, including Iceland. Surprisingly I quite liked his account of my home country, I think he pretty much nailed it. Again, some of the information is outdated, but I feel that he quite captures the spirit of Iceland and Icelanders in a way that I could not have done myself. Besides from Iceland I enjoyed the chapters on Bhutan and Cuba the most. What's missing from this book is a chapter on an African country, a Middle Eastern country and maybe an Eastern European country, for a bit more diversity.

  18. 5 out of 5

    May Ling

    The premise of the books is actually quite good. The idea that some places are quite remote and are therefore lonely relative to the connectivity that other places have to each other as a globalizing world makes distances shorter. The author has a clear point of view and background as he describes and visits all places unknown. The book, for me, lacked heart relative to other travel books that might be more trans-formative or gushing with the mind opening heart expanding experiences one has when The premise of the books is actually quite good. The idea that some places are quite remote and are therefore lonely relative to the connectivity that other places have to each other as a globalizing world makes distances shorter. The author has a clear point of view and background as he describes and visits all places unknown. The book, for me, lacked heart relative to other travel books that might be more trans-formative or gushing with the mind opening heart expanding experiences one has when visiting a place. That said, there are going to be those who are annoyed by that and will therefore find this book refreshing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rajat Ubhaykar

    A slightly dated book in which Pico Iyer travels to the Lonely Places of our alarmingly interconnected planet: Iceland, North Korea, Bhutan, Cuba, Paraguay, Argentina, Australia, Vietnam. I like Iyer's non-judgmental attitude towards travel writing, unlike the cantankerous Paul Theroux who can easily get on your nerves. Iyer writes about these strange lands with trademark eloquence and erudition, managing to both entertain and educate the reader in equal measure. Recommended! A slightly dated book in which Pico Iyer travels to the Lonely Places of our alarmingly interconnected planet: Iceland, North Korea, Bhutan, Cuba, Paraguay, Argentina, Australia, Vietnam. I like Iyer's non-judgmental attitude towards travel writing, unlike the cantankerous Paul Theroux who can easily get on your nerves. Iyer writes about these strange lands with trademark eloquence and erudition, managing to both entertain and educate the reader in equal measure. Recommended!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Lewis

    I love to discover the unusual & this book is full of it. Before reading this book, I wanted to travel to every place that I haven't been, with some places higher on the priority list than others. After reading this book, Iceland has moved up a few notches in the ranking. UPDATE: Nov 2017: I finally made it to Iceland! And now I want to go back... I love to discover the unusual & this book is full of it. Before reading this book, I wanted to travel to every place that I haven't been, with some places higher on the priority list than others. After reading this book, Iceland has moved up a few notches in the ranking. UPDATE: Nov 2017: I finally made it to Iceland! And now I want to go back...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Drivingsideways

    This is the first travelogue that I read, and I'm infinitely grateful to my friend who lent me the book. In this, as in his other books, Iyer's prose is beautiful, his observation keen, but most of all he writes with compassion (not sentiment) and fondness about the places and people he meets, drawing you in, and making you wish that you were in Reykjavik instead of wherever it is you are. This is the first travelogue that I read, and I'm infinitely grateful to my friend who lent me the book. In this, as in his other books, Iyer's prose is beautiful, his observation keen, but most of all he writes with compassion (not sentiment) and fondness about the places and people he meets, drawing you in, and making you wish that you were in Reykjavik instead of wherever it is you are.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cecilia

    Read it while backpacking around the world for one year the 2nd time! I loved his analysis of Australia but Video Nights in Kathmandu is the story closest to my heart because I know the situation, the people and the culture intimately. ceciliawyu.wordpress.com

  23. 5 out of 5

    John

    Great writing, though most of the material seemed rather dated. His description of Paraguay was probably my favorite essay.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    It is little surprise that lonely people are attracted to lonely places, and that we tend to see places through our own state of mind.  The author's discussion of various places he has visited around the world that strike him as lonely places is made up largely of places I would like to go, and not (interestingly enough) out of places I am very familiar with, with the exception of Argentina.  It is unclear if the author sees these places as lonely simply because he is a lonely traveler--that may It is little surprise that lonely people are attracted to lonely places, and that we tend to see places through our own state of mind.  The author's discussion of various places he has visited around the world that strike him as lonely places is made up largely of places I would like to go, and not (interestingly enough) out of places I am very familiar with, with the exception of Argentina.  It is unclear if the author sees these places as lonely simply because he is a lonely traveler--that may be at least part of the case--or whether he is making a judgment that they are lonely places in general regardless of who visits them.  As someone who certainly writes a lot about my own travels [1], I can understand the way in which our own personalities and our own experiences and our own moods shape our judgment of the places that we go to, and it is also true that we go to places (hopefully) that resonate with us, and that inform us about what kind of people we happen to be as well. This book of about 200 pages begins with a "prefatory note" and a comment on what makes lonely places lonely, and then consists of the author's travels in various places.  He begins with a trip to North Korea, which sounds like a pretty intriguing place to visit on account of its weirdness, before talking about the confluence of the sweet life and hyperinflation in Argentina, the mournful carnival of isolated Communist Cuba, the sparsely populated and remote Iceland, the hidden kingdom of Bhutan, the rapidly opening Vietenam of the early 1990's (which is likely a lonely place no more, unless you're a snake on a train), the genial shadiness of Paraguay that I would like to see for myself, and the remoteness of Australia.  In all of these places the author examines history and geography as the keys to their isolation, pointing out that for a variety of reasons these place are somewhat cut off from the world and adrift in time, which is where the author sees the origins of lonely places.  At times the author's comments are a bit acerbic but his wit is generally at least somewhat kind.  Best of all, these are places that tend to inspire hipster travel. There are at least a few reasons why many of these places are lonely places.  A couple of them, for example, are remote settler colonies.  A couple of them are communist havens gone wrong that have failed to recognize the failure of communism and rejoin the rest of the world.  Some of the places have deliberately set their face against the sort of compromises that would be necessary to appeal to tourists, and many of the places seem adrift in past nostalgic periods of glory.  In looking at lonely places, it is possible to better understand what makes people lonely.  It is not merely being alone that makes people lonely, but being adrift, cut off from others, aware that there is something going on that one is not a part of, burdened with dreams and memories that one simply cannot put into practice, filled with longings that are not fulfilled.  Not all places are condemned to be lonely, and it seems likely that Argentina and Vietnam are a lot less lonely than the author lets on since their economies are much better.  This book certainly gives a lonely reader and traveler plenty of food for thought, to be sure. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2010... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katrice

    I tend to classify travel writers in two general categories, the “fabulous, fabulous” and the “dotty uncle”. For me to get to into that would require another entry all together but basically the strength of the “fabulous, fabulous” is really poetic and picturesque descriptions of the place and their weakness is a cold impersonalness. The “dotty uncle” is more earthy, candid and relaable but tends to be too personal and too subjective and you’re not really given a good picture of the place itself I tend to classify travel writers in two general categories, the “fabulous, fabulous” and the “dotty uncle”. For me to get to into that would require another entry all together but basically the strength of the “fabulous, fabulous” is really poetic and picturesque descriptions of the place and their weakness is a cold impersonalness. The “dotty uncle” is more earthy, candid and relaable but tends to be too personal and too subjective and you’re not really given a good picture of the place itself. In this, my first experience with Pico Iyer, he straddles the fine line between personal and impersonal. He has a pithy honesty and an eye for details as well as a sense of adventure and wanderlust. The essays in this collection provide us both with interesting anecdotes as to what happened to him in these “lonely places”, objective descriptions of what he saw and observed and also subtle judgments and honest impressions as to what he feels about the place. This last characteristic of his writing, the subtle judgments are something I find I appreciate, it makes him feel honest and real. A traveler, not a travel agent. The ones that particularly stay with me are his essays in Vietnam and Bhutan. His observation on how the north is Vietnam, charming and exotic, while the south is Saigon, created to attract visitors is a judgement of sort but not a condemnation. As for Bhutan, his comment that Bhutan’s greatest attraction isn't what’s actually there but more the clout of being able to say you’d been there, kinda touches a nerve in me and maybe confirms a suspicion. All in all, in this collection of essays, Pico Iyer manages to be candid without being to personal or biased and as such comes off as very relatable. By doing this, he really helps you see for yourself the places he’s been without leaving your armchair. Even better, he can help you and lets you come to your own decision on whether you need to get up and out of your armchair and give these “lonely places” a go.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Yuqi Tan

    Finally, I finished this book, Falling off the map by Pico Lyer. I was first intrigued by Lyer’s ted talk titled “where is home”, which resonates much with my international student self. So I looked up his books, and found this book that echoes my desire to visit exotic places. He wrote about his visits to North Korea, Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, Bhutan, Vietnam, Paraguay, and Australia (in early 90s). Granted that those countries could look completely different now, I find his words complete the Finally, I finished this book, Falling off the map by Pico Lyer. I was first intrigued by Lyer’s ted talk titled “where is home”, which resonates much with my international student self. So I looked up his books, and found this book that echoes my desire to visit exotic places. He wrote about his visits to North Korea, Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, Bhutan, Vietnam, Paraguay, and Australia (in early 90s). Granted that those countries could look completely different now, I find his words complete the missing gaps in my knowledge about the world. Argentina is a lonely place because of “its longing, in the midst of New World spaces, for the Old World it has left”. One of Iceland oddness features that “there is no beer in 1987 and no TV on thursday”. Bhutan, a snow-capped Buddhist kingdom, on other hand, actively isolates itself from the influence from the rest world by restricting sites in which outsiders can visit and where its own people can travel. As for Vietnam, the reverse unification between Hanoi and Saigon is quite striking. One would compare the differences between the two as that of Beijing and Hong Kong. Honestly, Paraguay just sounds dangerous, “dictatorship is to Paraguay what constitutional democracy is to Scandinavia or Britain…Anything, anything you can get here is illegal.“. Australia is “a country “that didnt have to fight or work for its independence but simply backed into it.“, which kinda tells you how laid backness in this country has a long history. I found one thing in common among all these countries, with the exception of North Korea is that, girls just offered themselves up to random strangers in the hotel with the hope for marriage or money. And that’s not OK! Lyer is really good at creating the atmosphere with words, at the same thing, i lost tracks a couple times due to the wordiness. Good book, though i still believe that the only way to truly understand a country is to visit it yourself!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Zeke

    "Lonely places are not just isolated places, for loneliness is a state of mind.... Loneliness cuts in both directions, and there are 101 kinds of solitude." After being inundated for years by his quotes (stereotypically used to caption images on social media), I finally got the chance to get a copy of his books. In this one, he gathers several essays about places as disparate as Iceland and Argentina - all the essays being about places which are isolated and lonely. Well, after going through his b "Lonely places are not just isolated places, for loneliness is a state of mind.... Loneliness cuts in both directions, and there are 101 kinds of solitude." After being inundated for years by his quotes (stereotypically used to caption images on social media), I finally got the chance to get a copy of his books. In this one, he gathers several essays about places as disparate as Iceland and Argentina - all the essays being about places which are isolated and lonely. Well, after going through his book, I can see why his words have captured everyone's attention. How he managed to make a place as dreary as North Korea sound interestingly mysterious speaks volumes to the skill he has in writing, more impressive given that it's in a genre which often runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle (i.e. it's very easy in travel writing to sound like everyone else). I also loved the quirky little things he'd notice in the places he visited. Korea in Paraguay, Filipina mail order brides in Iceland, etc. One unfortunate thing though is that as the book was published more than 20 years ago (1990s), it's gotten to be a bit dated. Nowadays, gappies go to Australia cheaper than they can go to South America, Vietnam is filling up with travelers as fast as Thailand, Cuba is emerging from its isolation and embargos, but hey, there's always North Korea. Such a lovely book, definitely worth reading and it also makes me excited to read his other works.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    "What does the elegant nostalgia of Argentina have in common with the raffish nonchalance of Australia? And what do both these countries have in common with North Korea? They are all 'lonely places,' cut off from the rest of the world by geography, ideology, or sheer weirdness. And they have all attracted the attention of Pico Iyer, one of the finest travel writers ever to book a room in the Pyongyang Koryn hotel. "Whether he is documenting the cruising rites of Islandic teenagers, being interrog "What does the elegant nostalgia of Argentina have in common with the raffish nonchalance of Australia? And what do both these countries have in common with North Korea? They are all 'lonely places,' cut off from the rest of the world by geography, ideology, or sheer weirdness. And they have all attracted the attention of Pico Iyer, one of the finest travel writers ever to book a room in the Pyongyang Koryn hotel. "Whether he is documenting the cruising rites of Islandic teenagers, being interrogated by tipsy Cuban police, or summarizing the plot of Bhutan's first feature film ("a $6,500 spectacular about a star-crossed couple: she dies, he throws himself on the funeral pyre, and both live happily ever aftr as an ox and a cow"), Iyer is always uncannily observant and acerbically funny." ~~back cover This book was well enough in it's own way, it's just that I acquired it by the title, which I thought meant places like the interior of New Guinea, or the northernmost Inuit village -- that style of thing. My conception of a lonely place is NOT North Korea, which makes the headlines regularly with threats of nuclear destruction aimed at America, if only it can extend its reach just a bit more; they're working on it. Bhutan was the only place that even began to meet my preconceived notion of a lonely place. But then, we all know what assuming does, don't we?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Heiner

    This book was first released in 1993 and was written about the "lonely places of the world," which in Ayer's estimation included North Korea, Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, Bhutan, Vietnam, Paraguay, and Australia. Obviously globalization and simply the passage of time have made some of these places less "lonely" than in the 1990s, but much of what made them so in Pico's mind still persists. "Lonely places are the places that don't fit in; the places that have no seat at our international dinner table This book was first released in 1993 and was written about the "lonely places of the world," which in Ayer's estimation included North Korea, Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, Bhutan, Vietnam, Paraguay, and Australia. Obviously globalization and simply the passage of time have made some of these places less "lonely" than in the 1990s, but much of what made them so in Pico's mind still persists. "Lonely places are the places that don't fit in; the places that have no seat at our international dinner tables; the places that fall between the cracks of our tidy acronyms (EEC and OPEC, OAS and NATO)...Lonely places are the exceptions that prove every rule: they are ascetics, castaways, and secessionists; prisoners, anchorites, and solipsists...'island surrounded by land.'" (p. 4-5) In part this book is worth reading because it makes us grateful for what we take for granted, but in other ways its worth reading to challenge what exactly it is that we are doing or looking for when we travel. This is not about tourism or even travel really...but those who enjoy travel will enjoy the journey he takes you on.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Post

    This was the first book I'd read by Pico Iyer. I'm not entirely certain why everyone calls him funny (I never laughed once), but he certainly is entertaining. Like a good travel writer, Iyer keeps his eyes and ears open, talks to everyone, notices the little details that make a place what it is (in the case of North Korea, Cuba, Paraguay, and Vietnam, completely effing insane), and gets out of the cities and into the countryside just to see how things are done there. He also has a way with words This was the first book I'd read by Pico Iyer. I'm not entirely certain why everyone calls him funny (I never laughed once), but he certainly is entertaining. Like a good travel writer, Iyer keeps his eyes and ears open, talks to everyone, notices the little details that make a place what it is (in the case of North Korea, Cuba, Paraguay, and Vietnam, completely effing insane), and gets out of the cities and into the countryside just to see how things are done there. He also has a way with words, and though some of his literary and pop culture references were a bit obscure, I was able to follow his train of thought pretty well. This book is a bit dated now (the travels in question took place in the late 80s and early 90s), but I found his descriptions of Iceland and Vietnam hauntingly familiar, and his description of North Korea tallied with what so many other travel writers have reported. All in all, an enjoyable read: each story is like a 20-page portrait into a nation's history, culture, and cultural mien, based on talks with locals and eyewitness accounts. In short: good travel writing. Suck on that, Bill Bryson.

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