Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells

Rate this book
Returning to his longtime home in Japan after his father-in-law's sudden death, Pico Iyer picks up the steadying patterns of his everyday rites: going to the post office and engaging in furious games of ping-pong every evening. But in a country whose calendar is marked with occasions honoring the dead, he comes to reflect on changelessness in ways that anyone can relate to: parents age, children scatter, and Iyer and his wife turn to whatever can sustain them as everything falls away. As the maple leaves begin to turn and the heat begins to soften, Iyer shows us a Japan we have seldom seen before, where the transparent and the mysterious are held in a delicate balance, and where autumn reminds us to take nothing for granted.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published April 16, 2019

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Pico Iyer

104 books860 followers
Pico Iyer is a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian descent. As an acclaimed travel writer, he began his career documenting a neglected aspect of travel -- the sometimes surreal disconnect between local tradition and imported global pop culture. Since then, he has written ten books, exploring also the cultural consequences of isolation, whether writing about the exiled spiritual leaders of Tibet or the embargoed society of Cuba.

Iyer’s latest focus is on yet another overlooked aspect of travel: how can it help us regain our sense of stillness and focus in a world where our devices and digital networks increasing distract us? As he says: "Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds. Nearly everybody I know does something to try to remove herself to clear her head and to have enough time and space to think. ... All of us instinctively feel that something inside us is crying out for more spaciousness and stillness to offset the exhilarations of this movement and the fun and diversion of the modern world."

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
375 (30%)
4 stars
520 (42%)
3 stars
272 (22%)
2 stars
49 (3%)
1 star
15 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 221 reviews
Profile Image for Seemita.
179 reviews1,569 followers
June 21, 2019
It is good to meet life sometimes; not by seeing it in the eye but by interlocking fingers and walking by its side.

In this book, Pico Iyer finds himself undertaking such a walk, under the light-heavy shadows of autumn.

Twenty-five years after he first came to Japan as a 26-year old, enthusiastic, US-based journalist, he is compelled to make an unplanned visit back. The reason? Death of his father-in-law. His wife, Hiroko, conveys this news over phone and Iyer finds himself back in the quiet, unhurried neighbourhood of Nara.
Hiroko’s hometown is a silky courtesan who knows how to bewitch every newcomer, even in old age, with her natural sense of style, her lacquered designs; Nara is the absentminded older brother who’s forever pottering around in the garden, wondering where he put the key.
Dealing with loss can generate many projections. But in Japan, perhaps, it hovers over the sturdy base of impermanence, making the resultant image a parable of quiet agility and enviable acceptance. Iyer is no stranger to this Japanese ethos, making it to this country every fall, for a quarter century now. But over the backdrop of a loss so intimate and aching, his visit this time turns especially remarkable – he sees his days consumed by visits to his mother-in-law in an old-age home, table-tennis sessions with his neighbours, errands for the house, eventful moments with his step-daughter and comforting picture of his wife living by, and reflects on the gurgling vein of life that isn’t afraid to run meek in autumn because slowing down is as significant as springing up.
What do we have to hold on to? 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.
To merge the many films of past and not let the result unsettle, to hearken the heartbeat of future and not arrest its natural tempo, to extend arms to the heart’s content and scoop close the whiff of present, a walk like that in the autumn light is precisely what I took in this book. And there was no closure; just a delicate healing that descended on nerves that were hitherto unaware of their restlessness.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 19 books87.7k followers
June 10, 2019
This was such a quiet book, about autumn, about aging, and loss, and courage, and 'autumn light in a quiet room,' it was almost a meditation to read it--it creates its own environment, an emotional space in the reader quiet enough to unfold the book's philosophical and spiritual case. Japan is a culture of age, of preoccupation with time and season. In the book, age's presence is represented by the author's social circle, of which he is sort of a junior mascot to the seniors who gather to play ping pong several times a week. But also, it pays heed to his family's elderly members, beginning with a death in his wife's family, and spreading out into a meditation on mortality, vulnerability, love and silence. The blaze of glory of the leaves of Kyoto gives way to their falling. And next spring, flowers. The book is about family and one's place in time, the child, the lover, the father or mother, the grandparents--in Japan, all older people are called Grandfather or Grandmother--even in the family, an older man calls his wife Grandmother and vice versa. Iyer is thinking about endings, and one's place on the conveyor belt, the uncertainties of one's personal life within the certainties that autumn comes. The surprising cheerfulness of the old people, which is equally mixed with the knowledge that all must end. It's an appreciation through his wife Hiroko of the Japanese way--the closeness of the dead, the awareness of the fleetingness of life, the "religion of the seasons." It lingers like incense in the mind.
Profile Image for Rakhi Dalal.
204 reviews1,421 followers
January 5, 2022
Autumn is a season of change, of the beginning of decay - a season when the earth takes on a different hue for a little while before embracing the slumber of icy winter days. A season when the otherwise hurried life seems to slow down.

The days move languidly, to soak in the exhilaration of those swiftly flown by. To linger a little more on the miracles of everyday life, on the paling light which bestows the earth with a mellow exquisiteness.

It’s amazing how our lives turn around in our autumn years and stare at us from the cracks of our past. How it forces us to move slowly and to stop more often to look about carefully - to acknowledge the transient ilk of our bodies used to the idea of corporal invincibility of heady youthful days. To perhaps cherish what it still has to offer while accepting the fleeting inevitability of time.

I sometimes wonder if we were to be consistently aware of the impermanence of things that surround us, would that have a bearing on our interactions with others. In particular, with our loved ones. Would we be more perceptive and considerate than we usually are while holding their presence and taking their support for granted.

In observing the life around him, after the death of his wife Hiroko’s father, Iyer tries to explore what keeps a family together as the relationships age, what gives it meaning. He wonders How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.

Like autumn days, his pen moves slowly, capturing the elements of a culture which worships its dead and holds onto the familial in face of everything.

Sometimes his sentences made me stop and then go back to absorb the beauty implied in their meaning. Sometimes I just turned an observer, looking at his life from afar. As someone who herself stands waiting for the autumn light to descend.
Profile Image for Madhulika Liddle.
Author 16 books403 followers
May 19, 2019
The cover of Pico Iyer’s Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells is adorned with a spray of spring blossoms. Pretty white flowers, picture postcard perfect: incongruous, at first glance, with even the very title of the book. These flowers belong in spring, not in autumn. But pay closer attention, and you see that the flowers are falling, shedding petals as they drift down. Dying already, the invisible parent tree above them already moving closer to the next season.

Autumn Light is a memoir that spans the season it is named for. Beginning just before the leaves start to change colour and ending in winter, this book only occasionally depicts the glorious colours of a Japanese autumn. More, it focuses on the deeper meaning of autumn—the passing of time, the inevitable approach of the end—and what it means not just to the Japanese, but to all people, to their relationships, to society and community.

In the process, Iyer touches on many aspects of his own life and those around him. His recently dead father-in-law, to whom the Second World War, in which he fought, is still vividly alive in the spirits of the men he saw dead—and in the devastation that greeted him on his return to his hometown, Hiroshima. Iyer’s mother-in-law, her mind ‘broken’, finding it increasingly difficult to remember that her husband is dead. The septuagenarians and octogenarians who form most of the ping-pong club Iyer has been part of for the past nine years. Iyer’s own wife, who has, in the face of much censure, left one marriage behind. Her daughter, waiting for the boyfriend who even she knows will perhaps never return.

Interwoven into these everyday, sometimes downright mundane, routines of life, is a very vivid, very intriguing image of Japan and Japanese society. Sometimes, occasionally, it reads a little like the travelogues Pico Iyer is so known for: the descriptions of the maples, aflame with fall foliage. The cars lined up while tourists throng by the thousands to view the leaves. The shrines, the stone lanterns, the persimmons.

More often, though, this is a poignant and thought-provoking look at just how ephemeral life is. It is a point that is put forward again and again, in different ways, some so subtle that they might just pass by without being noticed. The Dalai Lama’s consoling of the people who lost their homes and families at Ishinomaki, months after a tsunami devastated the area. The cinema of Yasujiro Ozu, who dwelt repeatedly on the themes of farewells, families separating and breaking up, drifting their own way. Real life, with old people being left to the care of nursing homes while their offspring struggle with their own lives. Death, quietly and inexorably going its way, claiming its own.

Despite that, though, Autumn Light is never a morbid, pessimistic book. On the contrary, its core theme is about accepting that everything is only transitory. As the good passes, so shall the bad—and no matter how much one may want to halt time, to stop the year at spring or never grow old, one cannot. Time will pass. To accept that gracefully and to make the most of it is to live with dignity.

At one point, fairly early in Autumn Light, Iyer writes: ‘We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it’s their frailty that adds sweetness to their beauty… Beauty, the foremost Jungian in Japan has observed, “is completed only if we accept the fact of death.” Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.’

A wise, touching book that goes a long way in reinforcing that idea.

(From my review for The New Indian Express: http://www.newindianexpress.com/lifes...)
Profile Image for Mary.
220 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2020
I wanted to like this book. It started out with some poetic writing, but that soon became overly-sentimental. The "story" itself wasn't really a story, which even the authors admits in the final couple of pages. I was hoping for more insight, but having lived in Japan for 26 years, there was nothing new for me here. Reading this book was kinda like listening to some guys long-winded and boring story that really has no point, and really no ending. OK, some people will tell me that is the point of the book--as the little blurb on Goodreads explains. Some might say it shows the subtleties of Japanese culture, but again, there was nothing new for me here. He also didn't seem to know the difference between a house-hold shrine and an alter (one being Shinto, the other, Buddhist). I was also very irritated by the pidgin English he gave his wife Hiroko. I felt it was demeaning and took away from her seemingly energetic personality. I read it to the end, but it put me to sleep after a page. I guess it was good for that.
Profile Image for Anima.
432 reviews54 followers
October 23, 2019
“Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.’

‘I think of our own family and see how the story is the same: my father-in-law, after seven years in war and twenty years working for the government, saves up enough to send his son off to America for graduate school. The result is that his son barely speaks to him again. Hiroko longs to get a foreign destiny for her daughter, and then the daughter’s gone to Valladolid, scarcely seen by us for eight years. Japan opens up to the world, and then worries that the world is diluting Japan. ‘

‘“If I have some problem in my life, or something like that,” he goes on, “then, if I can see only that, it really looks impossible. Nothing I can do. You have to take a global perspective.” All of us are intertwined, in his understanding, which means that everything is more subtle, less isolated than we think. So often what joins us all are the challenges that everyone must face.’

‘What do we have to hold on to? 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. As I climbed all the way up to our house, the day after everything in our lives was reduced to rubble, I saw that everything that could be replaced—furniture, clothes, books—was, by definition, worthless.
The only things that mattered were the things that were gone forever.“
Profile Image for William E..
24 reviews4 followers
December 5, 2018
Visiting Japan in March and I couldn't be more excited. This was a lovely little read that left me thinking while reinforcing my excitement. Although now I sorta kinda wish I was visiting in Autumn...
Profile Image for G.G..
Author 5 books112 followers
October 24, 2020
There are some lovely observations on the autumn of life here as Pico Iyer joins his wife Hiroko to farewell her just-deceased father, tend to her mother, and contemplate what it all adds up to. Recalling the loss of his parents' home in California to fire, he writes:
What do we have to hold on to? 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. As I climbed all the way up to our house, the day after everything in our lives was reduced to rubble, I saw that everything that could be replaced--furniture, clothes, books--was, by definition, worthless. The only things that mattered were the things that were gone forever. (p.202)
He doesn't say what things were gone forever, and here, as occasionally elsewhere, I found the point a bit hard to fathom.

Never mind. The book is full of poignant vignettes of Iyer's older neighbors he meets up with at the local health club to play ping-pong, and occasional insights into Japanese culture that ring completely true. The Dalai Lama visits and Iyer observes:
His form of Buddhism couldn't be more different from the ones practiced in Japan; he's always urging--to little avail, perhaps--his Japanese audiences to forgo their chanting and backbreaking meditation for a more analytical grappling with the central texts of Buddhism, of the kind Tibetan masters, much more philosophical, enjoy. [...] I've been in Japan long enough to see its freedom from abstraction and theories as its deepest liberation. (p.181)

As in his earlier book about falling in love with Japan, The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, the ending belongs to Hiroko. Iyer tries to explain what this book is about to her:
"When I came here, I was so taken by everything that was different, full of drama, so distinctly Japanese. [...] Now I see it's in the spaces where nothing is happening that one has to make a life."
"Little no-action movie," she says, visibly unpersuaded, and closing the pages of this book without needing to open them, "Rain come down window. Car stuck in traffic jam. Quiet music playing. Autumn light."
Exactly. (pp.227-28)
Profile Image for Gaijinmama.
183 reviews74 followers
June 6, 2020
Nearly didn't finish. I don't have too many of those. Iyer is a really talented writer. But ugh. Most of his statements about this culture are total b. s., or should I say more diplomatically, not at all my experience having lived in Japan for three decades.
As a language teacher working in Tokyo, and with a Japanese spouse, I know a lot of Japanese people (see above, not bragging, I simply live and work here) and not. a. single. one.ever. speaks the way Hiroko does. I've known a lot of cool, intelligent Japanese women like her. Friends. Colleagues. Students. My own daughter. And again, I call b.s. Linguistically, it's just extremely unlikely. There are some very specific grammatical and lexical characteristics of Japanese English. Maybe the editors decided to cater to an American audience's stereotypes of Asian women. Or is the author simply not paying attention? catering to an audience who just don't know any better? or just happily wrapped up in his own idealization of Japan and refusing to see past it, as I was back in the day but hey, I bothered to face reality and learn the bloody language, which, dude, actually makes more sense than English in so many ways?! I teach English for a living, and seriously the grammar and pronunciation truly defy logic.

Two stars is being generous.
Sorry, Mr. Iyer. I like your writing style, you have skills, but please do better next time. The book mentions the Dalai Lama. I've heard him speak (amazing, life-changing, by the way). It's really sad that his English is rendered more accurately than the author's own wife's.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,213 reviews551 followers
June 27, 2019
Very Japanese "eyes" to the impermanence of life and the physical world. But not utterly pessimistic in the telling. Not at all. It holds immense descriptive segments and reflects both the love of Japan and Japanese culture and his wife in particular that the author holds.

Most of it is surely true, and applies to the most beautiful season of autumn. And the autumn years of various outcomes. The contemplation, meditation ideal is held throughout the memoir too.

It's also too self-absorbed and "less is more" and "least is best" for my taste. But I have never been a joiner and I also hold a much wider view of the individual and of individual worth as being high value.
Profile Image for Calzean.
2,591 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2020
The author loves his wife, Japan and ping pong. Born to Indian parents who migrated to the USA he found Japan by mistake and has lived there with his Japanese wife for over 30 years. His recent book sums up his admiration and respect for the simple life, enjoying the pleasures of the mundane, the seasons and family. His serenity and openness is a joy given his job is to fly into war torn nations and report on the worse of humanity. Here is a book which celebrates autumn, the world of the ageing Japanese and the greatest joy is to help others.
Profile Image for Debbi.
333 reviews83 followers
October 26, 2020
This book easily landed on my favorites list. Beautiful images of Autumn and Japan. It was just what I needed to take my out of a sad book reading trend. Lovely and highly recommended.
Profile Image for Elvina Zafril.
509 reviews84 followers
July 28, 2019
Beautifully written. This is such a calm book to read. It’s about autumn, about aging, fear of change, about the loss of loved ones and about courage. A lovely meditation on time.

I’ve never experienced autumn. I don’t know what it feels like. I really want to visit Japan. I hope I can visit Japan one day. This book focuses more about the autumn and the deeper meaning of the autumn.

In the process, the author discusses more on the aspects of his life and people around him, the death of his father in law and his wife. There’s not much plot to speak of here. There is one quote that I love so much. “A little like Japan itself in its post-war decades, we'd stumbled out of the lives we planned, with nothing definite to step into." To me this quote is quite relatable and it can be applied to everyone who have gone through life changing event or to everyone who are not knowing where to go next.

Autumn Light is not pessimistic book. Everything is only transitory. As the good passes, so shall the bad. Time will pass. Everyone is getting old. Live with dignity until you grow old.
I didn’t expect anything about this book since this is my first time reading the book from Pico Iyer. It’s still enjoyable.

Thank you Pansing for sending me a copy of Autumn Light in return for an honest review. This book is available in all good bookstores.
Profile Image for Emily.
65 reviews5 followers
May 4, 2020
Okay, the thing that irritated me the most about this book was the mention of Starbucks selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes. For a book that’s supposed to be a keen observation of the passing of time and seasons, and for someone who has supposedly spent so much time in Japan, one would obviously know that this drink isn’t sold here. That aside, this was just a slow book about...nothing? If you want an interesting book about the passage of time that takes place in Japan and the he the author as a character in the story, read Ruth Ozeki’s book “A Tale for the Time Being.” Or just watch the Ozu film Tokyo Story since Iyer is forever alluding to it in this book. As his wife says at the end of the book when he talks about writing it, “Your book, nothing happening?” Pretty much.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,180 reviews62 followers
May 6, 2019
I loved this book because for me, it was the perfect book for this stage of my life. You don't read Iyer for his insight into people, but more for his insight into life and his observations and descriptions of his surroundings. He captured autumn in Japan perfectly and in a very Japanese way. He's both poetic and pragmatic and his book says nothing and everything. When he described places that I am familiar with my memories became brighter and fonder.

I am not sure how this book would appeal to a young person who hadn't visited Japan. For me, as I read it, I found myself nodding as he aptly described something familiar to me. For those of us with aging parents, though, this is a must read.
Profile Image for Preethi.
796 reviews123 followers
July 22, 2019
Is Autumn really the end? Do we have to feel bad when the leaves change color and fall off, my mother always says -it feels sad to know that all these beautiful colors will go away. Or do we think of it as prequel to the beautiful and vibrant spring?
Whatever it is, Autumn is beautiful, with its colors, smells and the chilling breezes. And that season is made all the more beautiful by Iyer in his book, which feels like it has no plot but makes you realize that, that is the whole point.

In this book, which feels like it is about Autumn, Iyer explores a variety of dimensions - his love for the beauty of Kyoto; his calm neighborhood and the everyday normalness around there; his ever topping and energetic ping-pong teammates with their backstories and character traits; his love for his mother who lives far away, the father he lost a while ago, the father-in-law he lost a few days ago and his mother-in-law who is losing her mind slowly, his relationship with his step-children, random thoughts about the brother-in-law that he never met, my favorite of his protagonists, the Dalai Lama himself; and above all, the calm way he takes you back and forth in time to when he fell in love with Hiroko twenty-eight years ago and is still in love with, with the same fervor making this book feel like a long love letter to his darling wife, worshipping her in her everyday moments making them beautiful for the reader too.

This book is beautiful in its melancholy even when it feels morbid as it reminds you of the fact that everyone you love with die and all you can do is be with them and enjoy every moment and relive those moments as memories.
As always, impeccable prose, to the point of being poetry itself, this book reminded me again on why my love for Iyer is undying, he really is the best there is!
2,174 reviews32 followers
October 24, 2019
2.5 Stars!

I had never heard of this guy before, until stumbling upon an interview with him on the radio and I have to be honest I actually thought it was a woman talking for most of the interview, and not only that, it turns out that he has been rather busy of late and has published two books this year. I happened to pick up the wrong one. There’s lessons there for everyone!.

Anyway, in many ways this is a story of death, decline, dementia and deterioration, we learn some grim facts such as more nappies are sold to the elderly in Japan than the very young. We also get random brushes with the Yakuza and the Dali Lama in between a lot of ping-pong, ill health and contemplation, all underlined with a Buddhist infused philosophy.

Aside from this not being the book I was looking for, this starts off really slow and I was battling to find a way into it past rambling octogenarian ping-pong players and tables as sentient beings nonsense. This took a while to get to its points and there is a lot of dull and mind numbingly uneventful stuff in the road.

There is some nice writing in here, but it is only for short bursts, this book reminded me of just how much you can get away with if you cloak your writing under the “Eastern philosophy/spiritual journey” banner. It’s all a question of framing. If someone had written a book as dull as this in a western setting they would have been called out as rambling, mediocre and self-indulgent.
Profile Image for HeyLucindaO!.
37 reviews
March 21, 2020
This is the type of book you read when you have a lot of time on your hands and are not looking for something overly stimulating. I thought it was a beautiful, sad and nostalgic piece of writing. It’s a real slice of life so don’t expect fireworks.
It’s a type of meditative reading experience that reminds you to be in the now and observe your surroundings, accepting it the way it is.
Reading this book made me feel like I was drinking a cup of tea, staring out a window, observing everyday life in Japan and watching the autumn leaves fall to the ground... nothing more and noting less.

I agree with other reviews which mentioned that the portrayal of Hiroko’s character was demeaning due to the pidgin English she used in the book.
Profile Image for Q .
428 reviews
January 14, 2023
Autumn - Pico Iyer

This such a lovely book about seeing and living life. It was beautiful. Pico Iyer is a very talented writer. The scenes of the autumn leaves are exquisite. He captures the myriad ways people respond to life and the season. The book is filled with grace because the author is.

The book, as the title says, is about Autumn and the autumns in life. About the natural periods of change in life and how they are met and change, as they do, over time. It’s about family. It’s about Japan and where he lives and his love of it. And his love for his wife. It’s about their day to day living. Nothing special and yet there is a sense of a deep natural beauty in the moments of it, that make it special. PI seems present for it all. And he sees it all in such a matter of fact way that both accepts and appreciates the mundane and universal nature of things and the absurd and whimsy. And also the feelings that arise within it.

Autumn is a time when Pico Iyer isn’t traveling for his work. He is back home with his wife in Japan. This year his father in-law has died. His wife is now taking care of her 80+ year old mother with altzheimers. And his brother-in-law is still separating himself from his family. Their daughter is now back living in Japan. It’s the way he presents this all and creates the telling of it that makes it a wonderful read.

The images he creates about the greater Koyoto area of Japan and where he lives are just lovely. PI has this way of capturing a person or place. For example, he captures his elder ping pong friends thru nuance. We learn about them over time and he builds their uniqueness thru how they hold their paddle or make a spin, thru the nature of their actions, the color or style of their clothes, and the words they use so that they seem fully animated (sprung to life), like the artists at Pixar do in their films. All of this is viewed with a sense of meeting them as is for the very first time; even though he plays ping pong with them most days. In Zen it’s called beginners mind and it’s naturally embedded in Japanese culture. He brings his aging in-laws alive through stories and dialogue he has had with them and/or with his wife. His mother-in-law has altzhemers and her husband had taken care of her. She has fallen in love with him again in her altzheimer-ish way. And he blushes like a young boy. He was a young man in WWII and a Russian prisoner of war. He came back to his “beloved” Hiroshima and it’s aftermath.

I don’t know where to begin to tell you about this wonderful book- there is so much about life in it. Its very rich and says a lot and yet it is very simple. And simply done, yet it’s not simple. But is simple if understood in that way. Like the famous Ozu Tokyo Story movie. PI references watching that movie in the book and it influences him. His wife says it’s boring. And can’t fathom how he could write a book on those subjects and bore people.

It’s about love, family, fire, change, the seasons, culture, being a foreigner in a place you live and love and that he has come to belong in because he is there over time and for the person he is. It’s about a sense of place and how the autumns of our life’s mark that place and can make it more tender, and dear.

His own words:

“Japan is therefore an ideal place because I never will be a true citizen here, and will always be an outsider, however long I live here and however well I speak the language. And the society around me is as comfortable with that as I am… I am not rooted in a place, I think, so much as in certain values and affiliations and friendships that I carry everywhere I go; my home is both invisible and portable. But I would gladly stay in this physical location for the rest of my life, and there is nothing in life that I want that it doesn’t have." PI

Pico Iyer is a well known travel writer and essayist. He has traveled much of the world and he and his wife are part of The Dalai Lama’s inner circle when HHDL comes to Japan each year. Pico Iyer has known the Dalai Lama since he was 14 because of his dads work. He has no specific religion but has a broad understanding of many. That comes in part from his upbringing and it comes through in his writing. He brings a cross cultural perspective to much of what he writes. This is his second fiction/memoir set in Japan. The first The Monk and the Lady was about his decision to live in a one room home in Japan as an experiment for a year and meeting his wife.

Autumn “is not a sequel to the book I wrote on Japan twenty-eight years ago, except insofar as autumn is a sequel—a prequel—to spring, the companion piece that rounds the picture out.” PI

This is basically about his daily life and conversations with his wife and ping pong; Never have been a fan of ping pong but he made it so alive. And Japanese culture alive through it. It’s not a diary. In time it’s probably about six months from end of summer to New Year’s. It’s not all linear or chronological; he builds the story by providing more details with a different lens each time around. Time comes and goes, past comes in and goes, comes in again and grows the story with a wider lens. There are always surprises. Many moments of wit and delight. And many moments of happiness and sadness both. There are these deer that nudge people to get a cookie! In the midst of it all. As it’s all part of living there.

Leave you with this:

“Though the years are sad,” I read this morning on our terrace in the sun, on the last page of Edith Wharton’s autobiography, “the days have a way of being jubilant.” PI

This was a lovely book. With Autumn in the air now, shorter days, and pistachio trees changing to fall colors, the first to do so, the warmth and the joy of this book continues anew.
Profile Image for Leanne.
580 reviews46 followers
August 11, 2019
This is a followup to the author's book (I thought when it came out it was categorized as a novel) the Lady and the Monk. If that was spring--new love, possibilities, growth-- this is autumn--maturity and the realization that things end, people die, everything can't be fixed. The lady and the monk had this wonderful beginning (pure Pico Iyer!) of him wandering around the town of Narita--he was in Tokyo on a layover and decides to take advantage of the free shuttle to go see the famous Shingon temple in town. There, is is gobsmacked by Japan.

For anyone who loves to travel to exotic places, Japan will appeal as it is so incredibly unique with its vibrant culture; at that time, it was not as Americanized as many places in the world. Indeed, in 25 years there, I almost never saw foreign tourists (shocking to read in this book that Kyoto is the most visited city on the planet....) I loved the book, but his presentation of Hiroko really grated. She was another exotic fixture who spoke in very broken English and seemed to think so very differently than the people back home. Then, to read about her divorce, he presented it as if he was seeing it from afar... not something he had a part in --and, indeed till the end, he continued to play the part of the monk.)

I was surprised to see this all continuing thirty years later. The book did receive some negative comments on twitter by people living in Japan (journalists and translators) for the author's willful stupidity in Japanese. It is hard to imagine that an intelligent person who is genuinely interested in the culture wouldn't want to learn the language to unlock the literary tradition--much less to communicate with her kids, who now have no father. It's almost as if he would rather keep Japan as "exotic" travel experience (he is still on a tourist visa??) then step up as father to the kids. That is, by now, he knows that divorce is very serious there since there is no joint custody, often kids lose all contact with their fathers, and indeed Hiroko's kids don't remember what their father even looks like. Iyer only knows this because the daughter has gone overseas and learned English so she becomes a character in the play--but the son is like a ghost who haunts the pages but doesn't show up simce he can't speak the language. And the daughter is presented with perfect English while poor Hiroko is still speaking in the comical English from the first book? New York Times review suggested it was patronizing the way he would "interpret" how she thinks.... she is presented as an exotic other --that he adores--throughout. Then again, she is hands-down the most charming part of the book.

She seems to be lit up while he seems to be a kind of witness to events--the divorce, so long ago, has had the unintended consequences that the older brother will not speak to anyone in the family?!?! This breaks Hiroko's mother's heart. And again, Iyer speaks like a witness, when in fact he had a part to play... even the Dalai Lama (who the author follows around, despite declaring he is not a Buddhist) tells him to reach out to the brother. It's like this huge event happened but no one will discuss it directly and then Iyer writes a book about it....

He does, however, spend a lot of time telling readers how good they are to their parents. He even mentioned the number of cruises he has taken his mom on.

I disliked the book very much, as I did Monk and Lady. It was puzzling. That said, there are some beautiful moments--exquisite descriptions and sweet interludes.

Profile Image for Pascale.
1,126 reviews42 followers
May 1, 2019
This book is a love-letter to the author's wife, Hiroko, as well as an attempt to come to terms with the process of aging and the loss of loved ones. The book starts on the day Iyer learns that his hale and hearty father-in-law has been taken into hospital. A few days later, the old man is dead, leaving Hiroko to care after her mother. Hiroko's only brother, Masohiro, who rejected his entire biological family decades before, supposedly because of Hiroko's divorce, doesn't show up at the funeral and refuses to shoulder his share of the burden (although he seems to accept his third of the estate). Throughout the book, Iyer muses on the reasons for Masahiro's heartless attitude, a source of constant sadness for Hiroko. At the club where he plays table tennis every day during his annual stay in the Kyoto suburbs, Iyer encounters a variety a colorful characters who also, one by one, run into health problems and disappear from the scene. Iyer claims that having just a smattering of Japanese is more than enough to have rewarding relationships with his wife and his friends, but when he tries to dig deeper he makes the following confession about his relationship with Hiroko's children: "Through most of our lives together, my step kids and I have been quiet friends cross the dinner table; they, being Japanese, are unwaveringly tolerant and polite with the strange, disheveled creature their mother has brought home - he might almost be an exotic pet who doesn't seem quite fatal - and their limited English and my limited Japanese has left us in a peace of smiling courtesies. But now that Sachi has returned from Spain with fluent English, I feel as if I've gained a daughter, as well as a wonderful confidante." (p. 171) This leaves me to wonder how much deeper Iyer's understanding of Japan could have become if he had decided to invest the time into learning the language of the country where he has been living part time for the last 32 years.
Profile Image for tasya ☾.
347 reviews172 followers
August 18, 2019
I would like to thank Pansing for sending me a copy of Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer in exchange for my review.

The fact that the book takes place mostly in Japan made it more interesting. His expository of Nara, a beautiful historical city in Japan, was also very meticulous and makes me wishing so badly that I could be there during the autumn season 🍂

The author's writing style is somewhat refreshing and flows nicely. I almost shed tears at the very last sentence of the book. Autumn Light is such an eye opener for me.
Profile Image for Megha Chakraborty.
251 reviews104 followers
September 23, 2020
My first Pico Iyer, my friend gifted it to me on my birthday and I am so glad that he did. It's such a tender book, part journal part travelogue, Autumn Light is a Literary voyage to Japan. We follow Iyer to Kyoto, a small town in Japan, after his father-in-law’s demise, overcoming the aftermath of death, loss and change.
The first few pages where a little confusing for me as Iyer doesn't follow any fixed timeline, at times he describes the changing season and suddenly recalls a memory from somewhere, but he interweaves all this so beautifully. He writes about his mundane activities, changing seasons, the arrival of autumn and energy at ping pong table.
The autumn brings loss, death and suffering which he says is a quintessential meaning of life, his admiration for his wife, acceptance of her family and kids as his own is so beautiful. When she has a sudden episode of Transient global amnesia, he is scared of losing her, what if she loses all her memories, his fear of the worst.

The writing is lucid and easy to ready. The one perfect word for this entire book is Poignant.

Highly recommended, I felt more at peace with the world, hope you find it too.

Happy Reading!
Profile Image for Sharlene.
366 reviews110 followers
February 23, 2020
Some days you need that quick read. That fast paced, heart-racing, blood-pumping kind of book. This is not that. Autumn Light is the gentle kind of read that takes days, weeks to wander through and ponder, and to appreciate Iyer’s gentle musings and observations about life in Japan, issues about aging, and the fragility of life. A beautiful and thoughtful read. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Meisha Lee-Allmond.
43 reviews3 followers
September 30, 2019
Struggled with the pacing/structure of this book at times, but there is such lovely imagery and sentiment woven throughout it compelled me to keep reading.
Profile Image for Shauna.
268 reviews16 followers
November 3, 2022
Autumn represents the ending of things, the last few pages of a story. In autumn life is ending in one last beautiful blaze of glory. Pico Iyer uses autumn as the symbolic passage of life following its inexorable path of finality. For many, recognizing the decline of those around us and the dawning of realization that the same fate awaits us is horrific. Iyer, though, beautifully and elegantly portrays an embracing of it. "Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying."-Pico Iyer in Autumn Light. Iyer realizes that a person can see much of life, and yet missing absolutely all of its importance. He has chosen to slow way down and encourages the reader to really appreciate the many layers of life being lived all around them. I think this is best portrayed in his playing of ping pong. Ping pong is just a game, a way to pass the time. Isn't it? However, through this simple routine, Iyer learns underlying themes of Japanese culture and the rhythm we call human relationship. I also learned a smattering of interesting Japanese culture and anytime I learn something new I consider it time well spent.
Profile Image for Leonard Davis.
40 reviews
August 4, 2020
“Cherry blossoms, pretty and frothy as schoolgirls’ giggles, are the face the country likes to present to the world, all pink and white eroticism; but it’s the reddening of the maple leaves under a blaze of ceramic-blue skies that is the place’s secret heart. We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it’s their frailty that adds sweetness to their beauty.”

“We’re so convinced we’re moving forwards when all I seem to do is go round and round with the seasons, certainly no wiser, and often only more sure of how much I cannot know.”

“Every parent is found guilty before the jury of her children - until, perhaps, these children become parents themselves.”

“Hold this moment forever, I tell myself; it may never come again.”
Profile Image for Hariz.
12 reviews2 followers
September 21, 2019
Might be biased, given how it’s about my favourite season, but Pico Iyer’s writing truly is special.
Profile Image for Jt O'Neill.
427 reviews81 followers
May 29, 2019
I enjoy reading everything Pico Iyer writes. We may have some differences from time to time but his prose often reads like poetry and that makes up for any differences. I did have a little trouble getting into this book as he is more circular and I was looking for linear. Once I adjusted my reading to his writing, I was able to take my time and absorb the truths about which he was writing.

Pico put a whole new spin on autumn for me in this book. Historically, I have not liked autumn. I've though of it as the dying time (as opposed to winter, the dead time). Although I could appreciate the brilliant fall colors, I mourned the passing of spring/summer and I grieved the loss of the light. Pico definitely focuses on the passing of time in Autumn Light and he hammers away at the notion of impermanence and the inevitable approach of the end but he does it in such a poignant style that I can almost embrace the autumn times.

As the NYT review said, there's not much plot to speak of here. There's lots of ruminating on autumn, its ephemeral beauty and its indications of earthly and personal decline. There's wonderful descriptions of Pico's trips to play ping pong with septuagenarians and their elders There's commentary on family's place in our lives and captivating snapshots of Japanese culture. Although Pico doesn't consider himself a Buddhist, he brings Buddhist thought into the book in ways seemed real and relevant to me.

In short, if you're looking for a reflective read on aging and all things fleeting, consider reading Autumn Light. The poetic prose is enough to make you be still and breathe.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 221 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.