The backstory: The New York Times named Euphoria a 2014 Notable Book, as well as one of the ten best books of the year. Euphoria also won the 2014 Kirkus Prize.
The basics: Set in 1933 New Guinea, Euphoria is the story of thee young anthropologists, Nell, Fen and Bankson. Nell and Fen, a married couple working together, seek the help of Bankson, an expert in the area, to identify a tribe worth studying.
My thoughts: Longtime readers of this blog know I'm a huge fan of fiction about real people, so when I heard Euphoria was inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, more specifically a 1933 New Guinea expedition Mead took with her second husband. On this expedition, they collaborated with the man who would become Mead's third husband. It's a trip that's ripe for fictional speculation, and King takes this tantalizing set up and explores its possibilities beautifully.
I realized as I listened that I took the early days of anthropology for granted. As someone who is fascinated by other cultures and peoples, I never took the time to think about how the field of anthropology began. I found that aspect of this novel particularly fascinating. There are so many themes present in this story that it would be easy for them to get muddled, but in King's skillful hand, the layers of this story work together beautifully to paint a picture of these characters as individuals, their pioneering work, and their increasingly complicated relationships with one another.
The plot moves along quickly in this novel, yet King's prose also left me breathless. As I listened to this book, I found myself holding my breath more frequently than not. I was both eager to hear what would happen next and so taken with King's use of language. Both Sands and Vance paced their narration beautifully. At times they performed with speed and urgency, and at time they slowed their pace and lowered their voices to whisper.
Favorite passage: "Sometimes you just find a culture that breaks your heart."
The verdict: Euphoria was my favorite book of 2014. It's as much about these three extraordinary individuals as it is the nature of anthropology and the study of what it means to be human. It's a love story. It's a cultural and historical exploration of gender, society, fame, and race. It's a haunting story of three people. I loved every second of it.
Audio thoughts: Both Xe Sands and Simon Vance were extraordinary. Vance had the more difficult assignment, as he voiced the two main male characters, one who is British and one who is Australian. Vance's accents were flawless (admittedly, to my American ear) and helped me easily keep track of which man was talking. Sands infuses Nell with so much emotion and intelligence. This story completely enchanted me, emotionally and intellectually, and it's one I want to listen to again and again.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 6 hours 53 minutes (272 pages)
Publication date: September 11, 2014
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