…Iyer writes that he was "never much interested in Greene the man of politics or Greene the Catholic, Greene the rumored spy" because in his estimation Greene was not "much interested" in such questions himself: "all were mere symptoms of some more fundamental trembling." Diagnosing this trembling, in Greene and in himself, is the work of this contemplative, idiosyncratic book, a kind of side trip that diverges from the routes of Iyer's usual writing.
The New York Times Book Review
Graham Greene isn’t the man essayist and novelist Iyer (Sun After Dark) would choose to take up residence in his head—“I would most likely fasten on someone more dashing, more decisive, less unsettled”—but it’s his lifelong fascination with Greene that fuels this deeply personal journey that crisscrosses the world and his own past. As much a catalogue of Iyer’s extensive travels as a musing on Greene’s themes of foreignness, displacedness, and otherness, the text moves seamlessly between Iyer’s days as a schoolboy in England and adventures in Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Cuba. For Iyer—who was born in England to India-born parents, moved to California at eight, but soon returned to the U.K. for boarding school—Greene’s oft-repeated theme of the foreigner resonates deeply. Like an “adopted parent,” Greene is forever by his side: a hotel in Saigon reminds him of The Quiet American, a seminal text for Iyer; his first trip to Cuba brings to mind the author; and even Iyer’s old Oxford neighborhood is reminiscent of Greene, as his ex-wife lived nearby. As he explores his obsession, Iyer cautiously peels back the layers of his relationship with his own father, a brilliant philosopher whose belief in mysticism Iyer did not share. In the hands of a lesser writer, the dueling father figures would dissolve into melodrama, but Iyer weaves them brilliantly, reminding us that “we run from who we are.., only to discover, of course, that that is precisely what we can never put behind us.” (Feb.)
“Resonates deeply…In the hands of a lesser writer, the dueling father figures would dissolve into melodrama, but Iyer weaves them brilliantly.” –Publishers Weekly
“[Iyer] is a wonderful wordsmith, and he provides engaging stories.” –Kirkus
“It may be that Iyer’s beautifully contoured sentences embody all the landscapes he’s absorbed as he’s traveled the world, pen in hand. Iyer is always present in his celebrated books, but never to the extent he is here in this captivating memoir of an unsought, often unnerving affinity…Iyer’s deep-diving expedition also illuminates the mystery and spirit of the literary imperative: ‘A writer is a palmist, reading the lines of the world.’” –Booklist
“A contemplative, idiosyncratic book, a kind of side trip that diverges from the routes of Iyer’s usual writing…as “The Man Within My Head” demonstrates, there’s fellowship to be found in the community of eloquent strangers, an eternal literary companionship.” –The New York Times Book Review
“A courageous, intriguing book, perhaps better described generically not as a memoir but a confession.” –The New York Review
“As Iyer investigates Greene’s life, he finds more parallels with his own, some superficial and some profound, which Iyer susses out in his usual composed, flowing prose.” –The Daily Beast
“Iyer’s rich and provocative book invites us to see the world in which we find ourselves today in a new and revealing light, and that’s the real measure of his accomplishment. ‘A writer is a palmist, reading the lines of the world,’ Iyer says of Greene, but he could be describing himself just as well.” –JewishJournal.com
“[Iyer] is masterful at describing travel…a rewarding read.” –Livemint.com
“This book is an original, a literary feat, a kind of counter-biography and shadow-autobiography. I can’t think of another quite like it...The Man Within My Head is Iyer’s richest, wisest book to date.” –The Hindu
“Iyer writes admiringly and persuasively about Greene in ways that the novelist may have approved…an engrossing read.” –Commenweal Magazine
Having taken us around the world in books like The Open Road and essays in venues like the New York Review of Books, Iyer now goes on an inner journey, showing us how he was profoundly influenced by Graham Greene while acknowledging the less clear influence of his father. For the intellectually hungry; with a six-city tour.
Novelist, essayist and travel writer Iyer (The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, 2008, etc.) examines his life through the lens of his lifetime preoccupation with the writing of Graham Greene. Greene's The Quiet American epitomizes for the author some of the major themes of his life: "foreignness, displacedness…innocence, chivalry." Greene's book, which takes place in Saigon during the buildup to the Vietnamese war, describes how the rivalry between a cynical British diplomat and the eponymous naïve American over a Vietnamese woman plays out on the larger stage of imperial politics. Iyer compares his own sense of divided identity to characters in Greene's book. "I went back and forth, in my life and then my head," he writes, "between unquiet Englishmen who were often more compassionate than they let on and quiet Americans who were not quite so innocent as they liked to seem." Though of Indian descent, Iyer was born in England, where he attended Eton and then Oxford. His father had left India and settled at Oxford, where he taught for eight years before moving to California to continue his brilliant academic career. The author is a wonderful wordsmith, and he provides engaging stories: about the fires that twice burned down his family's homes in Santa Barbara, landing in Sri Lanka in 2006 amid a violent upsurge while on assignment to write a travel piece on Marco Polo, his school days at Eton being trained to run an empire that no longer existed. Unfortunately, the disconnected chronology may leave many readers adrift. Those unfamiliar with the writings of either Greene or Iyer may have trouble following the thread of this memoir.