Monday, June 9, 2014

A Review of 'Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth' by Lisa Napoli

"Lisa Napoli was in the grip of a crisis, dissatisfied with her life and her work as a radio journalist.  When a chance encounter with a handsome stranger presented her with an opportunity to move halfway around the world, Lisa left behind cosmopolitan Los Angeles for a new adventure in the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan-- said to be one of the happiest places on earth.

Long isolated from industrialization and just beginning to open its doors to the modern world, Bhutan is a deeply spiritual place, devoted to environmental conservation and committed to the happiness of its people-- in fact, Bhutan measures its success in Gross National Happiness rather than in GNP.  In a country without a single traffic light, its citizens are believed to be among the most content in the world.  To Lisa, it seemed to be a place that offered the opposite of her fast-paced life in the United States, where the noisy din of sound-bite news and cell phones dominate our days, and meaningful conversation is a rare commodity; where everyone is plugged in digitally, yet rarely connects with the people around them.

Thousands of miles away from everything and everyone she knows, Lisa creates a new community for herself.  As she helps to start Bhutan's first youth-oriented radio station, Kuzoo FM, she must come to terms with her conflicting feelings about the impact of the medium on a country that has been shielded from its effects.  Immersing herself in Bhutan's rapidly changing culture, Lisa realizes that her own perspective on life is changing as well-- and that she is discovering the sense of purpose and joy that she has been yearning for.

In this smart, heartfelt, and beautifully written book, sure to please fans of transporting travel narratives and personal memoirs alike Lisa Napoli discovers that the world is a beautiful and complicated place-- and comes to appreciate her life for the adventure it is."

Lately, I've taken to doing an online quiz that tests how many countries/nations of the world that you know.  I have been able to name about 160 of those countries and Bhutan is one of them.  So I'm happy to say that I knew where Bhutan was prior to reading this book!  What I didn't know was: absolutely everything about Bhutan.  So I'm really happy that I read this memoir of Lisa Napoli's experiences with Bhutan and the Bhutanese people.

I like that this book is unlike Eat, Pray, Love in that Lisa wasn't super desperate when she went off to Bhutan.  She is divorced and she's not very into her job any more.  She she rolls with the punches.  When she's presented with an opportunity to go to Bhutan, she goes.  Not necessarily because she has to, but because she wants to.  I like that Lisa's journey was purposeful (at least to begin with).

I also like that while Lisa is in Bhutan, she makes observations and compares those observations with what she knows about the U.S.  What I like even more is that she observed with a level head-- she wasn't in-your-face pro-America (saying that the United States way is the only way), but she picked out things from Bhutan that she loved.  She recognized what she could bring home with her and what would be best left in Bhutan.  This shows her personal growth and also makes what she's writing accessible to her reader.

One more thing that I liked was how Lisa experienced the real Bhutan.  One of my favorite parts of this book was when she flew back to the U.S. after her first visit to Bhutan.  She meets with a woman who went through Bhutan the way tourists do.  This other woman paid a ton of money to live in luxury for two weeks for a family vacation.  They visited Buddhist temples and lived in relaxation.  Lisa, on the other hand, met and befriended Bhutanese people and lived as they did (although, probably a little better, to be honest).  It was interesting to see that stark contrast.

My one complaint was that this book, after Lisa returned from her first time in Bhutan, kind of dragged on.  I think this is because I was anticipating this book to end when she re-entered the U.S., but that wasn't the case.  There was no warning for this (that I found) and it just threw me off.  I think if I read it again, it wouldn't bother me.  I think including more than one stint in this book is beneficial.  Lisa has a really broad knowledge of Bhutan now and by visiting more than once and hosting a Bhutanese girl in her home, she really shows this.

Overall, this book is good for those who like memoirs, travel, and other cultures.

I give 'Radio Shangri-La':
Thanks for Reading!


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