A mesmerizing collection of essays that vividly recalls sojourns to mostly contentious yet fabled realms, Pico Iyer's The Half Known Life upends the conventional travel genre by offering a paradoxical investigation of paradise ... Deeply reflective ... Iyer poetically depicts the otherworldly beauty of these places while trenchantly examining the paradox of utopia ... Iyer is less interested in binary thinking than in embracing contradictions ... While The Half Known [Life] is not without its romantic seductions — Iyer's indelible prose often conjures the hypnotic, teeming vista of a David Lean epic or the evocative interior of a Mira Nair picture — his descriptions are suffused with an awareness of loss ... Offers us a revelatory refresher on American literature.
A culmination of [Iyer's] shifting focus on inner journeys and an expansion of his argument that paradise is rarely found elsewhere. But unlike his slim book of stillness, this is a return to the open road: a grand, full-scale travelogue ... Like the author himself, it has multiple identities and registers — equally memoir, travelogue, cultural history and airport philosophy. It is also one of his very best ... There is a vintage, almost imperial quality to Iyer’s brand of wanderlust and a clear influence from the European Romantic tradition of finding and writing the self through far-flung grand tours. That kind of travel writing, however, can now feel dated and disconnected in its earnest, exclusively male self-absorption — not to mention tone deaf in a world of restricted access and rigid visa regimes. Fortunately, Iyer has remained both participant and critic of that privileged mode of travelogue-ing, and I’ve always found an electric charge of journalistic observation and acute political alertness in even his most romantic essays ... The book is haunted by Iyer’s lifelong obsession with pursuing paradise: searching for an external projection of refuge, beauty and peace through travel ... Early sections of the book can feel like fragmentary, rapid-fire visits to exotic destinations, punctuated with elliptical inner monologues and historical and literary asides. The writing, while always poetic, can feel unmoored and disorienting ... A narrative cartography of personal growth and expansion. It is a work of spiritual evolution built around vivid, discernible images of real places by a master of description ... I was looking forward to returning to a vintage, aspirational brand of wanderlust with a great roving chronicler of elsewhere. Instead, The Half Known Life is a masterful merging of Iyer’s past and current concerns, a book of inner journeys told through extraordinary exteriors, of hopeful optimism for a world rooted in the paradise of being home.
In Iyer’s hands, the search for paradise, the way out of the ego, doubles as an internal journey ... No stranger to the travel genre, the prolific Iyer is after something more here. His chronicle, which begins with an appreciation of the sophistication, beauty and culture of Iran, becomes a requiem for a world — and an existence — estranged from itself ... A lonely, nostalgic and haunted quality emerges as Iyer casually intersperses bits of his personal history. There is a formula to many of the chapters ... Empathy is not the only thing going on; Iyer is also looking within. And as he looks, things get dizzier and dizzier.