Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth I selected this book from Amazon Vine because I don't know much of anything about Bhutan and since the author lived and worked there, rather than vacationing, I thought she would give me an open-eyed view of the people, the government, and the landscape.

Since I have an ARC copy, there are no photographs and I can't see from amazon's website that there are any in the published book either. I hope I'm wrong because it really needs pictures of Bhutan, her friends there, and herself.

Napoli went to Bhutan in 2007 when she was 40 and going through a bit of a midlife crisis, wondering if she should have stayed married, had children, and lived a more "normal" life. As it was, she had worked at CNN, NPR, and other radio outlets, and was at that time working in Los Angeles in radio. She was originally from New York City but had lived many places. As a result, she had friends all over, many of them close friends she kept in touch with. It was one of her friends who introduced her to someone who got her a volunteer consulting position with a new radio station in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, and she was off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Now she has friends there as well. She has been back many times and the end of the book is quite sad as she relates the modernizing changes that have come to Bhutan. Along the way, Napoli came to terms with her own life and realized what it is she needs to do to feel truly fulfilled.

I enjoyed learning more about Bhutan, including exactly where it is. This is the country that values its "happiness quotient" rather than its GNP. The people didn't get television until a few years ago; the unfortunate result is that they believe all of us in the U.S. live in huge, posh homes like the characters on "Desperate Housewives." They found it hard to believe that we aren't all rich and that Napoli's L.A. apartment wasn't much bigger than her digs in Bhutan. As it opens to the West, perhaps some of those misperceptions will be made clear, but they are certainly paying a price.

I recommend this book, but it won't be on my list of favorite reads for the year.


  1. I read a finished copy of this for my book club. We meet tonight and the author will be calling us. The first thing I'm going to ask her is why there are no pictures in the book. My feelings about the book were pretty much the same as yours - I'm anxious to see what everyone else thinks tonight.

  2. Sounds like an interesting read. I wonder if there will be photos in the finished book. It's funny how television has shaped the world's perception of America.

  3. I guess I liked it better than you did. I never even thought about pictures as her descriptions were so complete. I felt like I was on those trips with her. Sorry it didn't work so well for you.

  4. Kathy, I'll be interested in what Napoli had to say about the photograph issue.

    Beth, I was horrified to think that anyone would judge us by such shallow TV fare.

    Margot, I did like the book and I loved her descriptions of Bhutan, but maybe I don't have as much imagination as you do. So glad you enjoyed it.

  5. I won this book in a blog drawing, and the publisher sent it to me. I believe it is the 'real' book, and there are no photos except one b&w at the beginning, and an author photo. I haven't read it yet, but will come back and read your review after I do.