Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review: "Radio Shangri-La" by Lisa Napoli

Summary from 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.

I discovered the country of Bhutan when I was in elementary school due to a book series about children around the world. There was a volume about children living in Bhutan and it was my first and actually only experience really learning about the country itself. Since then, there's not really much knowledge in Western culture about the country itself. Just in case you didn't know, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked (between China and India) country that is located in South Asia. I had heard about the use of "Gross National Happiness" but it was used more as a unique fact rather than a in-depth study. Therefore this country was unknown to me and as I like travel memoirs, when I saw this book I knew that I wanted to explore more about this country.

I really enjoyed this book. Through Napoli's words I felt that I had traveled to Bhutan myself. Her descriptions of The culture came alive right from the beginning. The dress, the food, the customs all were vividly described so that the reader feels as if they are traveling the country for themselves. Napoli becomes interested in the religious and political aspects of the country as well, therefore the reader learns a lot about how the country is maintained and governed. It's a really good primer as well about the workings of a country that has been kept untainted from outside influences for such a long time.

I appreciated very much that Napoli didn't come across as a unprepared, bumbling Westerner who keeps thinking that only their way is best and that the people of Bhutan were primitive. I've read other travel memoirs where the author had this perspective and frankly it ruined the narrative because they weren't willing to learn or fully delve into the culture of the country.

In addition to the culture of Bhutan, learning about the radio station was another experience in itself. The radio was a gateway to the outside world for those in Bhutan and Kuzoo FM sounded like an ideal job to have for the younger generation. Even though Napoli had more knowledge and was adapt in the latest equipment and techniques, she did not take over when she came over to assist at the station. Instead she allowed herself to become the student, having the staff teach her what should and should be done in both the station and in terms of culture and country. Any time she did feel that she needed to voice an opinion, it seemed to be a struggle due to not wanting to offend those already in place. The Valentine's Day contest was a prime example of this situation. What interested me most about the disc jockeys is that, unlike those in American radio stations, they truly seemed like they really enjoyed their job and wanted to learn as much as they could.

The only parts of the book that didn't resonate with me was Napoli's romantic relationships. While I understand that it was part of her journey of trying to find her own self and her path to happiness, it just wasn't as interesting to me as her journey in Bhutan and discovering the culture had been. There's nothing wrong with them at all but I found myself wanting to fast forward a bit to get back to the radio station or more adventures with the townsfolk.

Overall, this was a wonderful read. Since, as Napoli points out, there are so many restrictions going into Bhutan, there aren't many first hand accounts about going to the country. I personally don't know a single person who has gone there or plans on going there. There also aren't too many books that are like this either. Hence, why this book is a jewel. It's a wonderful look into a culture that is foreign or even unknown to most people. Napoli gives an excellent insight to a land full of mysticism and takes a concept familiar to most of us and gives it a whole different spin. Her narrative is riveting and hard to put down. This was a wonderful trip for me and also makes me want to learn more about the country. If you're short on funds but still want to travel, pick up this book.

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli is published by Crown (2011)

This ARC was provided for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

I'm able to give away two copies of this book provided by the publisher. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to entrants from the US and Canada only. Winner will be picked Monday, February 21.

PLEASE use the form only to enter the contest. For any comments about the book, review, etc. please use the comments link at the bottom of the post. All information must be filled out correctly or else your entry will not count. (ie. you must use FULL name and list your mailing address). Your info will only be used for this contest and will be deleted after the contest is over.


  1. Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the contest

  2. Great review. I read this one recently too and really enjoyed it. I agree with what you said about how Napoli doesn't come across as a bumbling Westerner looking down on a culture different from our own. SO true. And what an arduous process it is just to GET to Bhutan!! They don't make it easy for tourists, that's for sure! Maybe that's why they're so happy- not a lot of outside influences. Thank you so much for being on the tour.

  3. I just got this last week, so I'm glad to see it's good! I know absolutely nothing about Bhutan so I'm looking forward to it.

  4. I enjoyed finding out about Bhutan and reding Lisa's adventures too. Here's my book tour: review.


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