‘Euphoria,’ by Lily KingReview by Mandy Mikulencak“Euphoria” by Lily King is one of those award-winning books that climbs to the top of every Top 10 list (New York Times, NPR, Oprah.com, Publishers Weekly, etc.). Based loosely on an early period in the life of controversial anthropologist Margaret Mead, this fictionalized account is set in 1930s New Guinea … Hey, don’t yawn just yet. There’s good reason this book is so popular.
The book opens with the failed suicide attempt of Andrew Bankson, an English anthropologist studying the (fictionalized) Kiona tribe. He meets a pair of fellow anthropologists fleeing from a cannibalistic tribe down river – American Nell Stone and her Australian husband, Schyler Fenwick (Fen) – and helps them find a new tribe to study.
The three young anthropologists have three completely different approaches to studying other cultures, which they find both infuriating and intoxicating. Throw in professional jealousy between Nell and Fen, and sexual tension between Nell and Bankson, and the novel moves along at a fast clip.
The complex themes made for quite a spirited discussion at my book club, with members talking over one another to make points about not only the compelling characters and story arc, but about the nature of anthropology itself. Probably the most fascinating theme is how the observer changes the nature of the tribe and people being observed. In the book, Nell takes a more personal, intrusive approach and bonds with the tribe members she studies, while her husband searches for a lost artifact that could finally make him a bigger success than his wife.
“Euphoria” is a highly enjoyable read all on its own, but readers shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves Googling Margaret Mead to find out more about the real-life inspiration for the story.
Mandy Mikulencak is a local author whose debut novel, “Burn Girl,” was a Maria’s Bookshop Top 10 Young Adult Book of 2015.