What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth
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Enjoyable memoir about ex-journalist Napoli’s search for wholeness and spiritual renewal.

The author provides a readable account of her life-changing decision to leave the comforts of her cosmopolitan Los Angeles life and serve as a volunteer at Kuzoo FM 90, a radio station for young people in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Disillusioned with her love life and fed up with her job as a public-radio commentator, Napoli took a chance on a mysterious stranger’s offer of unpaid work in a country where “[b]eing, not having” and “[h]appiness above wealth” were the prevailing national philosophies. For six weeks, the author immersed herself in an ancient but vibrant culture just emerging from centuries of self-imposed isolation. During her time there, she experienced endless fascination, but also sadness, caused by the Bhutanese obsession with television and all things Western. At the same time, Napoli discovered the beginnings of a joy and personal healing that had eluded her at home. After her first visit, she returned to Bhutan two more times. Knowing she couldn’t stay for long, she decided to “bring a bit of Bhutan to me” and sponsored a young female radio jockey, Ngawang Pem, to come to Los Angeles. In search of a way to stay in the United States and explore her version of the American dream, Ngawang eventually disappeared to New York before going back to Bhutan, marrying and inviting the author to become godmother to her unborn son. Napoli ably avoids the first-person trap of self-absorption through memorable depictions of the people and places in her narrative. She also skirts clichés about the world-weary Westerner who finds renewal in a short-term encounter with the exotic through the open-ended story of intercultural exchange. Although she ended the journey unmarried, childless and uncertain of her future, the author gained the hard-won conviction “that what I gave was more important than what I got.”

The author’s authentic voice and light, pleasant cultural insights make for a refreshingly uplifting book.

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-45302-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2010


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