Meandering like a river, [Autumn Light] flows along with a steady pace of rumination, only to abruptly plunge off a profound waterfall. At other times, it stagnates in an eddy of banality, treading water, barely flowing at all—as in the many sections when Iyer plays ping-pong with elderly acquaintances at the local health club. It is a mysteriously affecting book, but some readers might be frustrated by its swirling structure ... Like the films of Ozu and Bergman, Iyer’s book is something you feel from within—a mood that is being conveyed ... Autumn Light certainly induces contemplation. A strange emotional fragility arises after sinking into the book, a heightened sense of awareness of what is usually neglected ... Autumn Light is ... not only a joy to read, it’s helpful.
Iyer’s new book, Autumn Light, captures his evolving perspective with astonishing grace. A gentle account of Japan’s autumn, it depicts the unfolding of individual lives in a season marked by transition. This theme is powerfully unveiled in the book’s disquieting beginning ... in addition to reminding us of the importance of the private life and its altered, diminishing character—texts like Autumn Light force us to ask how such a life can be recovered, if it can be recovered at all ... At a time when most of us are preoccupied with the public sphere, his turn to the private realm calls on us to not only recognize the promise of this realm but also to consider the relationship between both domains. An appreciation of this relationship is an ambitious task, but books like Autumn Light encourage such an inquiry, and simply posing the question holds more promise of understanding our world than the solutions that are usually on offer. In reading Iyer, one is persuaded of the power of a life lived in airplane mode, even if we must determine the extent to which such a life only makes sense in the context of the technology that enables it.
Iyer is known primarily for his travel writing, his erudite essays on literature, and his wise, restrained accounts of his Buddhist-inflected striving for stillness and contentment. But memoir is an equally exquisite aspect of his œuvre ... Even in his daily life, playing Ping-Pong with neighbors, he is a consummate tour guide, knowledgeable of his surroundings yet alert to all that might strike foreign eyes as unexpected or inexplicable ... To my relief and pleasure, Iyer seems just as enchanted and enthralled by [his wife] Hiroko as he was in [his earlier book] The Lady and the Monk ... In the autumn of his life, Iyer remains alert to beauty as well as to loss, but his book is replete with a quiet assuredness, a knowledge that he and Hiroko have found the kind of love that endures.
Iyer’s writing is both simple and lyrical, an apt style for a British/American with Indian roots living in Japan. The memoir succeeds, with its deceptively quiet descriptions of autumn both in the natural world, and in the season of his and Hiroko’s own lives, in echoing a uniquely Japanese appreciation of the fleeting nature of time, as well as the humbling acceptance that nothing lasts.
... a vivid meditation on the year after his father-in-law’s death: a conscious transition from grief glimpsed through the prism of his pedestrian daily routines and tested by the changing Japanese seasons ... It’s Iyer’s keen ear for detail and human nature that helps him populate his trademark cantabile prose with his (seemingly boring) daily routines and the (never boring) people who populate them ... Each player offers a unique navigation through these comes-to-all autumn years; and how clever of Iyer to make their commotions a metaphor for how the world paddles forward.
... Autumn Light is not a travel-book as such, although it may be read as a mental or psychological journey in which he comes to learn about impermanence, something we paradoxically need to experience before we can somehow retain what is no longer there ... In Autumn Light the theme of death is all-encompassing, but not in a morbid or depressing way ... There may be too much Zen in this book for some readers!
The universal season of transition and mortality is a truly spectacular experience in Japan, and the book is a sensory feast alive with blaze-red maples, 'yuzu-colored' light, haunting temple bells, smoke from fires lighting the paths of the spirit world and the firefly-like winking of lantern-lit graveyards ... His insights, shared via broad journal-like observations about the Japanese, or through more personal stories of love and loss, center on the wisdom and grace — and difficulty—of accepting the reality of impermanence [.]
Although Iyer is part of the fabric of the neighborhood, known at the Post Office and the patisserie and the sports club, he remains an outsider, a foreigner, which gives him a unique perspective on the rhythms and rituals of his adopted home. Iyer’s prose is elegant, an absolute delight to read, full of empathy and wisdom and appreciation for the inescapable fact that every human being must constantly grapple with joy and sorrow, with holding on and letting go, with the often-uncomfortable idea that everything is fleeting.
... wistful ... The funniest and most illuminating thread traces Iyer’s blossoming ping-pong skills, as he competes against spry septuagenarians and witnesses the more passionate side of traditionally stoical Japanese men. With his trademark blend of amiability, lighthearted humor, and profound observations, Iyer celebrates emotional connection and personal expression, and he upholds death as an affirmation of life and all its seasons.
Throughout the narrative, the author mixes musings on the ephemerality of existence with scenes of quotidian life ... Some readers may be put off by Iyer’s decision to render Hiroko’s English dialogue in fragments...the rendering will still strike some as insensitive. Otherwise, this is a thoughtful work with many poignant moments, as when Iyer and Hiroko take her mother on a drive past Kyoto’s temples and, in a moment of clarity, she starts crying when she remembers visiting them with her husband ... This moving work reinforces the importance of finding beauty before disaster strikes.
... luminous ... Iyer weaves in sharp observations of a graying Japan, particularly of the vigorous but gradually faltering oldsters in his ping-pong club, and visits to the Dalai Lama, a family friend, who dispenses brisk wisdom on life’s impermanence ... The book is partly a love letter to the vibrant Hiroko, whose clipped English unfolds like haiku, and it’s partly an homage to the Japanese culture of delicate manners, self-restraint, and acceptance that 'sadness lasts longer than mere pleasure.' The result is an engrossing narrative, a moving meditation on loss, and an evocative, lyrical portrait of Japanese society.