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Art and Culture

Likely Stories: Euphoria

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Love story based on the adventures of Margaret Mead and her anthropologist friends.

I'm Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories a weekly review of cition, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies. 

Back in my middle schoold ays, I lvoed reading about archeology and anthropology. My favorite book then was Gods, Graves, and Scholars, an interesting look at some notable archeological digs, including the Tomb of Tutankhamen and ancient Troy. When I was in college, I took an anthropology course as an elective, and devoured numerous monographs on disparate cultures around the globe. Recently a friend recommended Euphoria by Lily King, which is a fictionalized account of Margaret Mead's adventures in New Guinea. Ah, the embers of my old passion flamed anew. 

King has written three novels before Euphoria, and she was won several awards, including being named as an alternate for the PEN/Hemingway Award. She has also gathered several awards from her home state of Maine,where she currently lives. 

Euphoria is the story of three anthropologists studying tribes in New Guinea. Fen is the husband of Nell and Andrew Bankson is a young anthropologist trying to discover a previously unknown tribe to make his name. King plays with some of the facts of the lives of these characters, in order to spin a love story of an unusual nature. Nell plays the role of Margaret, Fen stands in for Reo, Margaret's second husband, and Andrew Bankson fills the role of Bateson, Margaret's third husband. I found the early chapters a bit confusing until I worked out who was whom, and the exact relationships among the three characters. 

King really did an exceptional job of capturing the thoughts of Nell as she explores the peoples of the New Guinea jungles. Ini this passage, King writes an entry in the diary of Nell. "I found a language teacher. Karu. He knows some pidgin from a childhoof spent near the patrol station in Ambunti. Thanks to him my lexicon has over 1,000 words in it now and I quiz myself morning and night though part of me wishes I could havge more time without the language. There is such careful mutual observing that goes on without it. My new friend Malun took me today to a woman's house where they were weaving and repairing fishing nets and we sat with her pregnant daughter Sali and Sali's paternal aunt and the aunt's four grown daughters. I am learning the chopped rhythm of their talk, the sound of their laughter, the cant of their heads. I can feel the relationships, the likes and dislikes in the room in a way I never could if I could speak. You don't realize how language actually interferes with communication until you don't have it, how it gets in the way like an over-dominant sense. Once comprehension comes, so much else falls away. You then rely on their words, and words aren't always the most reliable thing" (79). 

The one thing which disturbed me about the book - especially in light of the current plunder of previous artifacts in the Middle East - was the way some of these people manipulated and even stole artifacts from the tribes to sell to museums. For example, Fen covets a sacred flute, and enlists the help of a local man, Xambun, to steal it. In the progress, the natives discover the loss, and attack the two men. Xambun is killed. I am glad I ignore the rule of 50 in this novel. 5 stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU. I'm Jim McKeown. You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com. Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!