Title: Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth
Author: Lisa Napoli
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 4 out of 5
In this memoir, Lisa Napoli recounts her move to Bhutan, a tiny country near India, in order to help run a brand new radio station.
When I first heard about Radio Shangri-La, I knew I wanted to read it. Though I have heard of Bhutan, I know almost nothing about it. This book gave me the opportunity to learn something about a new place, while simultaneously enjoying a personal story. Additionally, the premise reminded me of The Woman Who Fell From The Sky by Jennifer Steil, a book I really loved about a woman moving to Yemen to help run a newspaper. I knew I was in for a treat with Radio Shangri-La, and I was right.
I absolutely loved Napoli’s observations about Bhutan. From the way of life, to the landscape, to the interesting people she meets, I drank up every detail Napoli had to offer about Bhutan. The country has a fascinating history, and it’s so interesting that life there has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. Now, though, the encroachment of modern technology such as television and radio have begun to change the culture. While the young people living in Bhutan want to be in touch with the rest of the world, they are losing their connection with their culture.
Napoli presents a very interesting quandary in Radio Shangri-La. On one hand, people are attracted to Bhutan because life there is so simple, yet the people are so happy. In fact, the country makes it a point to measure the Gross National Happiness (instead of GDP or GNP, like most other countries). At the same time, though, the influx of foreign visitors is changing the country. As a result, the people who crave the peace and happiness of Bhutan are changing it simply through their presence. There are a lot of discussions about this subject in the book, the balance between the need for modernization and the protection of culture, and it made the book simply fascinating.
While Napoli did discuss her experiences trying to run the radio station in Bhutan, the focus isn’t on her job. Instead, it’s on her personal observations and experiences. While I did enjoy those aspects, I would have loved more information about the cultural difficulties she found in educating the Bhutanese about how to run their radio station. Napoli tends to skim over this, though it would have made the book richer had more of this information been included.
Radio Shangri-La is a really interesting read. I loved the discussion about modernization in Bhutan – Napoli loved how preserved the culture was, yet she was helping to change that with the radio station. It really will give the reader a lot to think about, and since this is an easy read, it makes it perfect for book clubs. I thoroughly enjoyed my armchair travels through Bhutan in this book, and am now eager to learn more about the happiest place on earth.