“What do we have to hold on to?” Pico Iyer writes in his latest book, Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells. “Only the certainty that nothing will go according to design; our hopes are newly built wooden houses, sturdy until someone drops a cigarette or match.”
Ostensibly about his life in Japan, where he lives for part of every year with his wife, Hiroko, Autumn Light is also Iyer’s elegiac meditation on time, family, loss, and being fully present in the moment. Iyer describes the neighborhood where he and Hiroko live, their modest apartment and daily routines, which for Iyer, in the fall, means spending as much time outdoors as possible. The slant of sunlight, the shades of blue in the sky above, and the fiery colors of the maple trees turning are as irresistible to Iyer as his weekly ping-pong sessions with a revolving cast of senior citizens.
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. “Hold this moment forever, I tell myself,” Iyer writes, “it may never come again.”