It’s the early 1930’s and you are on a small canoe paddling alone through the jungles of the Sepik River in New Guinea in search of a native tribe you plan to observe. Some of the tribes in this area of the world are notorious head hunters, and most have never seen outsiders before. Now this is definitely adventure travel!
Euphoria, by Lily King is loosely based on the early 20th century anthropologist Margaret Mead and her relationship with her first and second husband. The story follows anthropologists Nell Stone and her Australian husband Fen into the jungles of New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea) to research and observe native tribes and discover the details of their cultures that they hope to share with the rest of the mature colonial world. They are joined by a fellow British anthropologist, Andrew Bankson who further complicates the situation.
Suffering from malarial sickness, depression and fierce competitiveness this love triangle becomes increasingly complicated with danger looming throughout– whether from each other or the tribe(s) they are trying to assimilate into. At the beginning of the book, Nell describes the incredible pleasure of euphoria she gets from entrenching herself into a tribal culture and the feeling gets when she feels she’s figured it all out.
“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 that moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.”
Yet by the end, it’s not quite clear if that euphoric feeling of discovery is quite worth all the risks.
Whether you are traveling to the deep jungles of Papua New Guinea or perhaps just plan on soaking up the sun on an island vacation in Hawaii, this is the perfect read to give you pause– from the sheer adventurous nature of what it truly must have been like to be an anthropologist in remote tribal areas in the time of colonialism to whether or not one can truly understand another’s culture. Lily King’s Euphoria is just the book to transport you to this different time, place and journey.
“Go Native” – Euphoria Book Review on NY Times by Emily Eakin
South Australia Museum – Pacific Cultures Gallery, Adelaide, Australia
While reading Euphoria, I just happened to be traveling around Australia. In Adelaide we spent the afternoon exploring the natural history museum in town, the South Australia Museum. Much to my excitement, I discovered their incredible Pacific Cultures Gallery (originally opened in 1895.) It was like stepping directly into Euphoria and seeing all the objects, and photographs from Nell’s exploration of New Guinea. The antique displays are incredibly well maintained, and are the perfect look to house the incredible artifacts from all over the Pacific. It was quite a coincidence to find this museum, especially while reading this book!