Music of the World – “Radio Shangri-La” by Lisa Napoli
Los Angeles journalist Lisa Napoli was burned out, over it, and in desperate need of a change when she met a guy at a party, and he turned her world upside down. Sebastian (the guy) spent a lot of time in a little-known kingdom between China and India called Bhutan, and asked Napoli how she’d feel about heading to Bhutan to help run the nation’s first (and wildly popular) radio station – Kuzoo FM. Napoli accepts, and heads out to this strange land, with no idea what she’s in for.
The people of Bhutan are poor, but happy. So happy, in fact, that the “Gross National Happiness” is rated and studied closely. They have a Royal Family they love (and who are so approachable their numbers are even in the phone book.) They paint their houses vividly – some even decorated with giant phallus’s (to embarrass people to keep them from looking at the house and desiring to rob it.)
Of course, Napoli adapts to her surroundings and learns to love this world that seems so strange to her. And who wouldn’t? The people around her are charming, her job seems really fun, and hey – its an adventure. The book keeps going after her return to the U.S., – when a friend from Bhutan comes to visit America and gets caught up in the affluence and “American way.” (It’s probably an accurate social commentary that the first thing Napoli does with the foreign friend is take her for fast food, right?)
As the book comes to a close, Napoli comments on the recent drive to get tourists to Bhutan, and how many people feel an increase in tourism will ruin all that’s great about this tiny and secluded world.
Successful woman packs up everything and finds herself by having an adventure in a strange land? Yes, it’s more than a little bit “Eat, Pray, Love,” but “Radio Shangri-La” is an awesome little memoir. Instead of keeping the focus internally (which was my prime issue with “Eat, Pray, Love,” – which I otherwise loved) Napoli looks around her and writes about it – the people of Bhutan and the world they live in are truly front and center.
As one who loves travel books, and well-written memoirs, this was a treat.