Love in the Time of Malaria: Euphoria by Lily King


Image of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea found on

     Once upon a time, in a land very far away, there lived strange, isolated, fearsome people who cared not for books, electricity, Catholicism, Christianity, clothing.  They lived in tribes along a river called the Sepik, rife with crocodiles, and ate bizarre foods, conducted outlandish rituals, they intentionally scarred the bodies of their young men and occasionally indulged in orgies of sexual abandon.  They made art, made war, traded goods and each tribe spoke its own language.

png-karim-tribe-intiation-dance-_25524_600x450Photo, National Geographic

     But all good things must come to an end.  In Euphoria, Lily King’s intoxicating trek into this exotic locale, three anthropologists (Australian, American and British) find themselves far from home.  King’s anthropologists are simulacrums of Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune and her future husband, Gregory Bateson.

Bateson, Mead and Fortune in 1933.

Bateson, Mead and Fortune in 1933, from The Guardian

     Euphoria was named a top ten best of 2014 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, NPR and others and won the 2014 Kirkus Prize.  The New York Times lauded the novel, calling it a “taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace — a love triangle in extremis.”

     When Nell and her Aussie husband Fen appear in Euphoria, Brit Bankson has been rescued by natives trying to drown himself in the river.  He is sick, lonely, depressed and hopeless in his work.  For the most part, King chooses Bankson to narrate the tale further into the heart of darkness, through the tendrils of roots and vines, into the smoky interiors of huts and along the blackness of a river at night.

     Bankson tends to Nell, wrapping her broken ankle, gifting her a pair of glasses to replace her broken ones, offering her aspirin for a fever.  Bankson and Nell are drawn together intellectually at the same time as Nell and Fen are at odds:  Fen jealous of Nell’s success in publishing a detailed account of the sexual exploits of a tribe she had studied before their marriage.   Nell ensnares Bankson with her brain, her purpose, her methods and her words:

It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. 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 the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.

     As Bankson falls for Nell, so does the reader of Euphoria.  Believe me, I stay in the least camp-like environment I can find and yet by the end of the book through the beauty of King’s prose even I could understand, if not seek to emulate, the passion that drove Margaret Mead and others like her to explore to the ends of the earth.  As Nell explains:

Why are we, with all our “progress,” so limited in understanding & sympathy & the ability to give each other real freedom? Why with our emphasis on the individual are we still so blinded by the urge to conform? … I think above all else it is freedom I search for in my work, in these far-flung places, to find a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be. And maybe I will never find it all in one culture but maybe I find parts of it in several cultures, maybe I can piece it together like a mosaic and unveil it to the world.

     It’s a sensual, exciting, glorious read.  I am going to suggest it for my next book club.



I will offer my book club a version of one of Bankson’s most pleasant meals, barramundi and champagne.

Here’s a lovely looking recipe for barramundi, which also has the advantage of being sustainable and available at Whole Foods, apparently.


So this is where I’m really having fun.

Jungle Love, by The Time (one of my favorite boogie songs from an earlier life)

The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Tokens

Jungle Boogie, Kool & The Gang

Bungle in the Jungle, Jethro Tull

Jungleland, Springsteen

You get the idea.


Nell:  Amy Adams

Fen:  Eric Bana

Bankson:  Hugh Dancy

   Enjoy!  Happy Reading and Eating.

Circus Circus (and A Menu)


My sister is having her book club tonight for a discussion of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  I suggested the book because I loved the images of the black and white circus redolent of exotic spices, magic and mystery.  Despite huge sales of The Night Circus, I guess there are mixed reactions:   my mother said her own book club wasn’t fond of it and my weekly group at the Carnegie Center wasn’t sold on it either.

I admit, the plot is confusing and perhaps the basic love story of two magicians creating a world within a circus as part-competition, part-sacrifice is a bit strange.  But the imagery created by Ms. Morgenstern, possibly due to her years of stage experience, pulled me in and kept me bound to the story.

red scarf


My sister asked for some help with a black and white menu for her group tonight and this is what I suggested:

Popcorn drizzled with dark chocolate

Bagel chips smeared with cream cheese and topped with black caviar

Steamed white asparagus sprinkled with poppy seeds and lemon juice

Squid ink pasta in alfredo sauce

Chicken breasts wrapped in whole spinach leaves

Black and white cookies (store-bought) for dessert

The only tricky parts of the menu would be the asparagus and chicken.  Trim the asparagus ends first, by holding the end and bending.  Where it snaps naturally leaves you only the tender part of the spear to cook.  You will want to wait to cook them until right before you are ready to serve.  I steam mine in an asparagus steamer for 3 boiling minutes, then turn off the heat and let the asparagus sit for a few more minutes.  Place the spears on a plate, douse with lemon juice and poppy seeds just before you serve them.

On the chicken, use whole skinless, boneless breasts and season with salt and pepper.  Place the breasts on the spinach leaf (or leaves) and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Wrap the leaves around the chicken to create a cooking packet and drizzle the exterior with more olive.  Drizzle, don’t drown.  Then place in a pre-heated 375 degree oil.  Cook for 15 minutes per side.

I would also serve hot chocolate with fresh cream and strawberries to give a nod to the Circus followers’ red neckties.


Tears of a Clown, Smoky Robinson

The Show Must Go On, Three Dog Night

Wild Billy’s Circus Story, Bruce Springsteen

Circus, Britney Spears (UGH, I know)

Circus, Tom Waits

and there’s always the cast albums from Pippin and Barnum


I’d love to see this as a movie.  Caitriona Balfe who is magnificent in Outlander would make a fine Celia.  And I suggest Hugh Dancy as Marco.

Happy Reading!