What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth
by Lisa Napoli
Travel / Memoir
Release Date: February 2011
Dissatisfied with her life as a radio journalist, Lisa Napoli takes a stranger at a party up on his random offer: to visit Bhutan and lend some of her expertise to setting up the country’s first youth-oriented radio station, KuzooFM. At the time, Bhutan was known as ‘the happiest place on earth’, measuring its success in GNH (Gross National Happiness) and limiting the influence of the outside world.
Over time, this changed, and through Napoli’s memoir we get to experience the shifting social structure as it happened: democracy, access to Western television stations, modern music, and a growing sense of materialism in a country that was previously focused on family and spirituality. There is one interesting thing to note—even with the changes, Bhutan has retained its $200-per-day tourist tax for visitors wanting to enter the country. The country may be more open, yes, but they still don’t want the hoards of unwashed Westerners traipsing through their sacred spaces.
I’m glad I read the book to learn about Bhutan, which I previously knew very little about. However, you may have noticed that I haven’t yet talked about Napoli and her time at the radio station. That’s because I actually found that part of the narrative somewhat dull and self-indulgent. I’m very glad that Napoli was able to ‘find herself’ in the experience, and was able to discover her priorities in life, but unlike other ‘travel memoir’ style books I’ve read recently, there didn’t seem to be a real point here.
She wasn’t there on a humanitarian mission, so the book wasn’t written to create an awareness of social injustice. She didn’t do anything particularly remarkable, so the book wasn’t written to chronicle how she rose from nothing to conquer to world. There are moments of excitement and flashes of brilliance, but on the whole, I wasn’t quite sure what the point of the book happened to be.
On the whole, I was a little disappointed. The cover (of my ARC, anyway) is lovely, and the title is fantastic. I only wish I’d known the purpose of the book, rather than feeling like I was simply indulging a friend telling a bland travel story, and not really sure how to walk away without being rude…
I will say this, however: If you like travel stories for the sake of travel stories, you’ll probably find much to enjoy here. I really mean that! I suspect the genre may simply not be “my thing.”
About the Author
Lisa Napoli’s last staff job was as reporter and back-up host for public radio show Marketplace. She covered the Internet revolution and the cultural impact of technology as a columnist and staff reporter for the NY Times CyberTimes, and as a correspondent for MSNBC.
A native of Brooklyn, NY and a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. She currently lives in downtown Los Angeles, where there’s a giant swimming pool, and hopes in the second half of her life to be a philanthropist.