It’s been a long time since I got so emotionally affected by a book. My first Lily King’s book, “Euphoria”, is loosely based on the lives of three social anthropologists, Margaret Mead, her second husband, Reo Fortune, and her third husband, Gregory Bateson. Social anthropology and a possibility to get a little closer to Margaret Mead, even though fictional, were the factors that attracted me to “Euphoria” in the first place, especially because I studied social anthropology and Mead’s works myself in my university years.
Nell (Mead’s equivalent in the book) is an already famous American anthropologist, married to a New Zealander Fen. Together they are studying little known tribes of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. After a year and a half they are joined by a British anthropologist Bankson, who has been studying one of the tribes there for two years already.
The author masterly analyzes the psychology of three people from three different cultures, united by the quest for understanding and discovery, enclosed in a small, claustrophobic space for a long period of time. There is brilliance, ambition, joy of discovery, camaraderie, but there is also envy, friction, tension and, inevitably, attraction between the characters.
I loved the historical context of the book, the rise of cultural relativism in the history of social anthropology, which questioned the universality of the Western civilization. But what I loved even more is the subtlety of the psychology of King’s characters and her sensitivity to almost invisible nuances that rendered these characters real.
My five stars go to these unforgettable characters this time. A really enjoyable and emotional journey it was!