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ARTS & CULTUREBOOK REVIEW
Drawing an Atlas of Bliss
Kim Sun Min  |  smkim18@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2019.09.27  02:21:07
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“I’ve always believed happiness is just around the corner. The trick is finding the right corner,” says Eric Weiner in his New York Times bestselling travel memoir, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World (2008). The definition of happiness varies and people have always been chasing after what makes them happy. Weiner’s journey around the globe in pursuit of happiness is just what anyone would need to discover in a fast-paced world. It is filled with humor and brings to the surface thoughts that have always been in the subconscious minds of people.

 

   
▲ Book Cover. Provided by Goodreads.
 
Weiner is a long-time foreign correspondent for the American National Public Radio (NPR), who used to report from more than 30 nations. He also writes a regular column for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Travel and his works also appear in many other publications such as The Washington Post. His passion for travel and writing is prominent in his career choices, which is why it did not surprise a lot of people when he released a book chronicling his travels.

Ironically, writing The Geography of Bliss was initially prompted by his job that required him to move to a wide variety of places deemed to be full of unhappy people. Writing about dejected people to inspire pathos in his audience elicited the urge to uncover the unheralded happy place. In his travels, he attempts to answer questions on what makes a place felicitous— money, pleasure, spirituality, or family. He starts his journey from Iceland, one of the world’s happiest countries, to Moldova, a not-so-happy country, trying to figure out what puts a smile on the people that live there.

What differentiates this book from other travel logs is the fact that, as Weiner moves from country to country recording his observations, he also provides thoughtprovoking details related to the level of happiness of each country. While the concept of happiness is a rather subjective matter, Weiner’s survey on the happiness of each country does not explicitly rule out what brings happiness. The book itself, to the dismay of a few readers, is open-ended, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions and formula for happiness.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that the tone Weiner takes in the book may not sound pleasant to everyone. While the casual voice is what makes the book such an easy read, the caustic humor that is carefully embedded into Weiner’s writing can offend a few readers. Sentences like “Qataris have no culture,” or “Moldovan men look like they could use a bath,” are some examples of his brutally honest observations. This sarcastic and flippant tone is often the subject of controversy when judging the memoir. Some like it, but some are not big fans of the way Weiner phrases his personal thoughts.

Despite this slightly controversial quality, The Geography of Bliss is still worth a read because it is a re-evaluation of happiness. Weiner does not simply offer a solution to unhappiness or any kind of simple bromide as most self-help books do. How his travel log transforms his readers depends on each reader because the book lays out all the puzzle pieces for them. There are no easy answers but only bits and pieces for readers to chew on. Whether they choose to swallow or spit them out is up to the readers to decide.

Book Information

Title: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World
Author: Eric Weiner
Published: 2008
Publisher: Twelve – Hachette Book Group
Pages: 335
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