Euphoria by Lily King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“I think above all else it is freedom I search for in my work, in these far-flung places, to find a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be. And maybe I will never find it all in one culture but maybe I find parts of it in several cultures, maybe I can piece it together like a mosaic and unveil it to the world.”
How presumptuous of me to be inspired in my travel blog writing by this profound quote by human scientist, Nell Stone, in Euphoria by Lily King! But, I am. I understood exactly what she was trying to say, have felt it myself on all journeys. It is the need to observe and absorb the actions and thoughts and beliefs of people in other places – even in other time periods – and to share what I have learned. It is done to increase both my own and others’ understanding of not only the fascinating differences in other lands, cultures, periods of history, but also to show our innate similarities.
This book reminded me of the value of recording as quickly as possible the thoughts and descriptions that I observe. This is what Nell did religiously in her notebook and then on her typewriter. I want to be like that. And, yet, I want to also understand that I’ll probably not ever truly understand but glimpses of truth are enough. That’s the euphoria of which Nell speaks.
“It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion – you’ve only been there eight weeks – and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.”
Anthropologically speaking, this book, at its core, is itself a study of three passionate anthropologists whose lives intertwine in New Guinea in the 1930s: Nell, the famous American anthropologist; her husband Fen, an unhinged Aussie; and Bankson, an English anthropologist. Nell is modeled after Margaret Mead, whose name I have heard but of whom I know little and who will now require much further and deeper inquiry.
The book flows nicely and was quite believable, its exotic and unfamiliar setting notwithstanding. I had to remind myself at times that this was a novel, only based on Mead’s life. Lily King’s research must have been exhaustive and I am jealous of all the information she must have delved into to create this story. Her descriptions of the tribal peoples are at times cringe-worthy and stomach-turning, especially when she depicts cannibalism, infanticide, and smells. At other times, though, her words are heartbreaking as she describes the tribal people and their universal responses to life unfolding.
Nell’s character was inspired by the work of Margaret Mead, and now, so am I. Now I shall try to view the worlds I visit with through an anthropological lens, capturing bits and textures and moods and light and emotion in my writing and photos. From now on, I’ll let my curiosity get the best of me (yes!) and not pass up those moments when something prods me to take notes or capture a picture. Now, I am a photo-journalist, an observer, a writer of stories, a human scientist, hoping to understand this world around me; hoping to have as enticing a story as King’s to share.
This book inspired me personally as well as providing an engrossing story and is a job very well-done.