Katie Reads: Radio Shangri-La

Continuing my somewhat problematic guilty pleasure book theme of white women traveling abroad to solve their mid-life crisis:


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 had 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.

Various thoughts in no particular order:

I zipped through the first part of this book, but felt like the second half was a lot slower. I think it’s because it didn’t have the same sense of containment that the first did so it was less easy to see where the arc of the memoir was going. The first half was all about Napoli’s six weeks in Bhutan helping the Kuzoo radio station and the second was kind of a random mix of different times Napoli visited Bhutan again/ met people from there/ hosted Bhutanese friends in the United States.

When Napoli had a Bhutanese friend visit her in the US and she started suspecting that her friend was planning to overstay her tourist visa, I can’t imagine why Napoli didn’t insist on taking her friend back to the airport to catch her flight back to Bhutan. I know Napoli said she had work and thus couldn’t take her, but it was so incredibly obvious what her friend was planning to do.

I learned a lot about Bhutan, but felt like Napoli could have done a better job visually showing us her time in Bhutan (perhaps her minimalist style was due to her journalism background?). For instance, at one point Napoli talks about buying a beautiful ring. We’re told that it is made from gold but it’s never explained what the ring actually looks like, which is odd as we spend several pages on its importance and the purchasing of it. It was also really unclear what Napoli’s volunteer role with Kuzoo was exactly.

There were also moments where Napoli was incredibly honest for a brief moment, but then shut off before fully explaining (such as throwing in that she was sexually assaulted, but then not really exploring the repercussions of this).

Overall, a fun enough read and now I want to visit Bhutan, but definitely don’t have the money to afford the per day fees wow.

Stay magical readers!

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