Reading Sara Review: Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria, by Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King cover

Rating: 5/5

Book Length: 288 pages (paperback)

Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition

Publication Date: June 3, 2014

Book Description: From New England Book Award winner Lily King comes a breathtaking novel about three young anthropologists of the ’30s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.

English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.

Reading Sara Review: I do not take a 5 out of 5 rating lightly. In fact, before I begin this review, I would like to take a moment and outline my philosophy on ratings:

1/5 – Could not finish it

2/5 – I disliked something distinctly about the book, and cannot bring myself to recommend it to others

3/5 – Not for me, but I would not discourage others from reading it OR it was a good book that I will likely not remember in detail in a few months, because it was not great

4/5 – Great book, I recommend reading it

5/5 – I love this book, you will hear me talk about it for months until you read it

Ok, now that we are clear, let me tell you about my love for this novel. Set in the 1930s, the majority of the book is written from anthropologist Andrew Bankson’s point of view. Bankson is fascinated by Nell Stone and her husband Fen. Part of this fascination stems from their similar surroundings – all three anthropologists studying tribes along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Lonely and haunted by his past, Bankson is immediately fascinated by this couple and encourages them to study a tribe near him so that he can be closer to other people doing similar work as he. From here, a story unfolds about these three people – their differences in ethics, opinions and aspirations and how they deal with a world so unlike the one they are most familiar with – and it is a love story of chance, unexpected meeting and ideas from people brought together by a similar passion.

During the novel, we see three different approaches to anthropology and immersion into a different culture. What each Fen, Nell and Bankson had in common was their unique desires – their own view of the world and their own reason to “escape” to a different culture. Each of their world views defined how they approached new people and what they sought to get out of that culture (popularity through book publishing, riches, balance, understanding of the world, and love).

What this story boiled down to for me was the concept of discovering one’s self through other cultures and other people. There were two poignant quotes on this topic in Euphoria:

“When only one person is the expert on a particular people, do we learn more about the people or the anthropologist when we read the analysis?”

“Perhaps all science is merely self-investigation.”

Because each of them came to the tribes with varying perspectives, their outcomes and theories are different and certainly ever-changing. This is true especially as they are further welcomed in and allowed participation in certain rituals and friendships. Is this not true for all of us, in everyday life? Our viewpoints on other people (within our culture and outside of) are defined based on ourselves – what we are seeking to understand, be frustrated by or embrace. We all come with our own history, our own bias and are seeking understanding of something greater, usually some type of self-investigation happens when we seek to comprehend in the world. I loved the way Lily King showed this self-investigation and self-discovery throughout the novel.

At the end, I learned that this novel was inspired by anthropologist Margaret Mead, whose research was controversial at the time of publishing, and was a part of igniting the sexual revolution in the 1960s through her research. It certainly inspired me to learn more about her. I had heard this quote before, but did not know it was attributed to Mead, “I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.” Based on merely that quote, for me, she seems a woman that we can take value in the path that she helped pave for other women scientists and authors.

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