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Review: Radio Shangri-La

April 29, 2011

In 2006, Lisa Napoli was working for public radio and suffering a mid-life crisis of sorts, when she had a chance encounter with a tea trader.  When he mentioned that he would be visiting Bhutan on an upcoming trip, she tried to impress him with the fact that she knows it’s referred to as “the happiest place on Earth.”   She was skeptical when he suggested she volunteer to help Bhutan’s newly started radio station attain some of its goals.  In January 2007, Napoli found herself doing just that, and Bhutan and its people had a profound affect on her.

Napoli writes about her experience with Bhutan and its people in Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth.    Bhutan is fairly difficult to get to and it didn’t have television until a few years ago, so it’s been somewhat isolated from the rest of the world.  It’s a Buddhist country that was ruled by a king until recently.  The people were more concerned with Gross National Happiness  than Gross National Product.

The country is not without it’s faults, though, but it’s simplicity and the charm of the people who live there helped Napoli face some demons in her past.  One line from the book that struck me was:

We shared a craving for a worldliness; our birthplace and generation altered our vision of it.

I liked Radio Shangri-La a lot, but I didn’t quite love it.  I love to be an armchair traveler, so I loved learning about a country I knew nothing about.  I also loved getting to know many of the people who worked at Kuzoo FM.   Even though she revealed some very personal matters, I felt Napoli kept readers a little bit at arm’s length and that kept me from totally loving the book.


I was lucky enough to win a book club set of Radio Shangri-La plus a phone call from Lisa Napoli from TLC Book Tours, so my book club read this book for the month of April.  Everyone enjoyed the book and we all loved our Skype conversation with Lisa!  She was a delight and we were thrilled to learn that we were her first book club.  We greeted her with the Bhutanese greeting, “Kuzu zampo,” and were happy when we learned that we had pronounced it correctly.

We learned that Lisa’s agent sold the book before it was written with a 90-page proposal.  It took her about a year to write the book, which is probably a good thing because she was able to include more recent events in it.  There are no pictures in the book because her editor didn’t think they were necessary.  (I wanted to see some, though, so I was happy to learn that there are some on her website.)

We discussed Bhutan, and how it’s changed since Lisa first visited it four years ago, as well as some of the people in the book.  We learned how Lisa’s experiences have changed her – she’s trying to give more of herself and works hard to encourage a sense of community around her.  We were all thrilled to learn that Lisa has a boyfriend now and we all hope to meet her in person one day – she charmed every last one of us.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2011 6:42 am

    I wasn’t familiar with this book, but I do love books that have me traveling to me to new places.

  2. April 29, 2011 6:44 am

    With all due respect, the editor would always be wrong to say that. When it is a true story, people want pictures! Don’t make me go digging on the Internet to find them! I don’t know if I will end up reading this or not, but it sounds interesting. And how cool that you got to talk to the author. That really does add a whole different dimension to the book.

  3. April 29, 2011 7:19 am

    This sounds cute if not perfect. I love the concept and the cover at least!

  4. April 29, 2011 7:33 am

    I bet you did learn a lot from this book though. I have a copy and I’m looking forward to it.

  5. April 29, 2011 7:39 am

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this book! How wonderful that you got to speak to the author!
    I love books set in other countries.

  6. April 29, 2011 7:44 am

    Bhutan is such a closed country and even in South Asia very little is known of this elusive country. Would be nice to read this book.

  7. April 29, 2011 7:52 am

    I won this book over at another site a couple weeks ago, and it has been sitting on top of my TRB pile looking lonely. I love books about places unknown, so this will probably be a good read for me, although it’s curious that the author tries to distance herself from the reader. It’s also really cool that you got the chance to talk to the author at your book club! We are hosting Lori Roy this month, who is the author of Bent Road, and I have to say I’m pretty excited!

  8. April 29, 2011 7:55 am

    Sounds like an interesting book. I have to agree that photos would enhance the reading experience and I’m surprised there were none. Nice win for you and your book club!

  9. Liz V. permalink
    April 29, 2011 9:42 am

    Twice today, books based in Bhutan.

    This and Married in Bhutan —

  10. April 29, 2011 10:03 am

    Thanks for explaining the lack of pictures. The editor was wrong, though, so I will look at the website for them.

  11. April 29, 2011 10:06 am

    I think the book and it’s premise sounds very interesting. I like the cover!

  12. April 29, 2011 10:25 am

    I enjoyed this book as well. I didn’t know about this country until I read this book. Good review.

  13. April 29, 2011 11:08 am

    Sounds like an enjoyable read, like the cover.

  14. April 29, 2011 11:10 am

    How wonderful to get to have a book club meeting with the author. I have this on my shelf and when I got it and leafed through it I, too, was surprised there were no photos. I know next to nothing about the area and look forward to learning a bit about it.

  15. April 29, 2011 11:30 am

    I think I liked the book more than you did. I don’t know why but, I didn’t miss the pictures. However, I did look a her website and there are some amazing pictures there. Your “meeting” with Napoli sounds like a delightful experience for everyone.

  16. April 29, 2011 11:34 am

    I have this book and I do want to read it, but if you didn’t totally love it, I may not get to it any time soon.

  17. April 29, 2011 11:55 am

    This one is in the TBR – thanks for the review… I have to pick it up soon.

  18. April 29, 2011 12:00 pm

    This sounds like a fascinating memoir and I can’t wait to read it (I have a review copy too)! Now I just need to look up where Bhutan is.

  19. April 29, 2011 12:07 pm

    I hate when non-fiction books don’t have pictures!

  20. April 29, 2011 1:23 pm

    Now this is the one place in the world I would love to discover.
    the book sounds incredible and will put it on the reading list.

  21. April 29, 2011 1:25 pm

    PS Kuzu zampo is very close to the Tibetan saying. Translated literally into “How is your body ?” The word Ku is an honorific term to “body” Zampo “well”. Hence you are enquiring on one’s health.

    In my hubby’s area they say “Arro Debbo” You respond Debbo.
    “Are you well?” response “well”

  22. April 29, 2011 2:04 pm

    This book tends to receive some fairly mixed reviews. I’m still not sure if it’s something I’m going to pick up yet. So many good books out there!

  23. April 29, 2011 2:22 pm

    How wonderful that you got to have a Skype conversation with her! I liked this book too, but didn’t love it for the same reasons. It was still a wonderful escape into Bhutan!

  24. April 29, 2011 2:46 pm

    I’m an armchair traveler too. This book is in my TBR pile. Too bad about no photos. When a book takes place in a country few of us have seen pictures are a great enhancement.

  25. April 29, 2011 3:29 pm

    I received a copy of this book from “Read It Forward” and finished reading it on April 17. I thought it was an OK book to read, but, I have to say I missed the pictures also. I had to google it and read some of the history and viewed pictures of the lovely scenery and the people. I felt it needed pictures, since it had been such an isolated country for so long. A very nice review of the book.

  26. April 29, 2011 3:51 pm

    I do so love the books you read…they help me to think about expanding the genres I read…I have to break out of my fantasy mode…every once in a while…

  27. April 29, 2011 4:18 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful read. The aspect of public radio has me hooked already. Thanks for the review.

  28. April 29, 2011 4:38 pm

    How exciting to hear her on the telephone. On a normal day my voice trembles. If I had to talk to an author, I would just fall apart. I bet talking to her made you feel a little bit closer to her story.

  29. April 29, 2011 5:30 pm

    So cool that you talked to her on skype 😀

  30. April 29, 2011 6:56 pm

    this sounds pretty interesting. not really my type of read to be honest though. and yes, it should have pictures. I love pics in all types of non-fiction reads.

  31. April 29, 2011 7:04 pm

    I know so little about this remote, exotic country. Wonderful review!

  32. April 29, 2011 9:06 pm

    How very fun to Skype with Napoli! I went to the website for pictures too, and I wish some had been included in the novel.

  33. April 29, 2011 9:11 pm

    I loved your thoughts on this one. I have this to read soon so I’m curious as to how I’ll respond to the author too!

  34. April 29, 2011 11:17 pm

    I like to be an armchair traveller too so I think I will enjoy this one as well.

  35. April 30, 2011 12:23 am

    I’ve never read a book about Bhutan, so this will go on the to read list!

  36. April 30, 2011 2:27 pm

    Not sure it’s for me but loved your review.

  37. stacybuckeye permalink
    April 30, 2011 10:10 pm

    I won this one recently and look forward to it. IT makes me want to read a book even more when I know the author is lovely.

  38. May 2, 2011 10:56 am

    That is great (and such a fun experience) that you won the book and the phone call! I’ll bet that was really a fun thing to participate in. 🙂

  39. Esme permalink
    May 3, 2011 12:45 am

    Lisa is great-I wrote to her and she sent me a copy of her book. I was fortunate to be able to listen to her speak.

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