As they were leaving the Mumbanyo, someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing.
‘Another dead baby,’ Fen said.
He had broken her glasses by then, so she didn’t know if he was joking.
-That was the first page of the book, and I knew I was a goner.
Euphoria starts with married anthropologists Nell and Fen leaving the Mumbanyo tribe after an unsuccessful stay. Well, at least Nell found it unsuccessful. Fen, who fancies himself as less of an anthropologist and more as an adventure-seeker, wanted to stay with the murderous tribe longer (they were also cannibals; according to Fen, humans taste like pigs). But Nell’s the breadwinner in their marriage, and she calls the shots, to her husband’s frustration.
Even though Nell is trying to flee violence, she’s still married to her biggest danger. He’s broken her glasses, as well as one of her ankles. She’s suffering from malaria and recently suffered a miscarriage (it’s implied her husband played a role in that as well). “Maybe you noticed — there’s sort of a stench of failure about us,” she tells fellow archaeologist Andrew Bankson when they meet at a Christmas party.
Bankson-the book’s main narrator-isn’t doing too well either. He recently tried to drown himself in the river, with his pockets stuffed with stones. He latches on to the couple, and finds them another tribe to study, just a few hours downriver from them. Once they’re close by, he can’t stay away.
Bankson’s in love with Nell-that much is obvious from the beginning. He’s unwilling to declare his feelings to her, and unable to stay away from her, so he ends up playing referee in her disintegrating marriage. The three of them stay up for hours, furiously designing “The Grid,” a map that arranges nations and cultures according to their character (North is aggressive, South is nurturing and so on). Years later, he thinks about that night again. “If I had not stayed but gone back to Kiona, would any of the rest have happened?”
The book is beautifully written, with piles of emotion and longing being left unsaid. While reading it, I felt it was too short, although now I’m thinking I just didn’t want it to end. It’s absolutely worth your time.