By THE EDITORS
Pico Iyer was born in England to Indian parents, and when he was 9 years old began commuting — alone, six times a year — between 1960s California and ancient British boarding schools.
“Globalism has seemed my destiny,” he said in a recent e-mail from rural Japan, where he has lived for 20 years. “Perhaps the most exciting development in my reading life has been to see even the starchiest and grayest literatures suddenly open up into rainbows of possibility. When I was studying English literature in Britain in the 1970s, it involved reading ‘Beowulf,’ Chaucer, Shakespeare and Johnson (even American literature was considered a little beyond the pale in England, and our main course stopped in 1832). Five years later, British literature was being blown open by writers whose names we couldn’t even pronounce — Rushdie and Ondaatje and Ishiguro and Coetzee. It was as if all the doors and windows of a stuffy Havisham house had suddenly been thrown open, to admit new sounds, strange spices, tropical colors, new histories and even new ways of telling history: new writers emerging for a new world and a new kind of reader.
A generation later, it seems we’re witnessing the same thing in American literature. So ‘world fiction’ has joined world music and fusion cuisine as a radically new and liberating feature of our all-over-the-place age of movement and cross-cultural collision and collusion. And these writers from everywhere are not just chronicling, but actively charting, the America of tomorrow.”
A version of this article appeared in print on July 22, 2012, on page BR4 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Up Front.