It’s a true sign of a good book when you are still thinking about it a week after finishing it (while halfway into another book). I’ve wanted to write a review for a while but I’ve had a really hard time processing my thoughts on this book to get them into words and I wanted to say a little more than “I really liked this book”.
From the very start, “Radio Shangri-La” felt a bit like “Eat, Pray, Love”, with that vibe of journeying across the world to find ones own self. Lisa’s journey is a bit different and in some ways maybe not as profound as Elizabeth Gilbert’s, but at the same time just as important.
The subtitle of the book is “What I Learned in the Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth”, and it is not just what she learned about herself that makes this such a good book and so interesting a story. As much, if not moreso, it’s what she learned about Bhutan itself, and its inhabitants.
Through a strange twist of fate meeting, radio reporter, Lisa Napoli gets an offer to go to Bhutan and help the Kingdom start their first radio station. This is a Kingdom that rarely allows outsiders and when they do they charge a pretty steep travel surcharge. Until the mid-90’s, the people there did not even have television. A one month trip to volunteer becomes several trips over the course of a couple of years and through her trips and her eyes we watch two parallel evolutions. We see how Lisa changes how she looks at herself and at life in general, and we see how the people of Bhutan change their outlook on life. Perhaps it is seeing possibilities that keep one from being happy?
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.
Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love”, Lisa didn’t embark on this journey as a means of self-discovery or looking to change herself. It was just an opportunity that fell in her lap and bored with the status quo she decided to accept the opportunity, with little knowledge of what she would find when she got to there. In the end, I think that’s what really seperates this book from the other. While Gilbert’s book is internal, Napoli’s is external. This book is less about her and more about others. However you choose to look at it, I think it’s a great book, not only interesting in the story but interesting in an informative way of learning about a culture you’ve rarely, if ever, heard of.