When a book reviewer discovers that they can relate to much of what went down in a memoir, you know the review is going to be great. This is one of those reviews. Heidi, a nurse and paramedic who lives in Australia, reads a lot. (How she finds the time, I have no idea.) She and her family traveled around her own country in a caravan (trailer) for THREE YEARS. And she’s been to Bali. A lot. Because of that, and because she pens terrific, in-depth reviews on her blog, I
begged asked her to read RASH and she said yes. I am so thrilled she did. Thank you, but books are better!!!
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
I don’t normally read a lot of memoirs. Lisa Kusel’s book Rash made me reevaluate that choice, because there is something infinitely touching about someone sharing their life story with you, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. As I laughed, cringed and shuddered my way through Lisa’s honest and vivid account of her year in Bali, I related on many levels to her story. For us, the thing that would fix all of life’s problems was a three-year stint travelling around Australia in a caravan with two kids under five. I wish that I could be sitting around the campfire with Lisa and compare notes, because what a laugh that would be!
Who would give up the comfort of their life in California, uproot the whole family and move to a little tropical island in Indonesia? Someone looking for a change. Change is good, right? A change of scenery may even fill that hole of chronic discontent in our heart that niggles that there must be more to life. So when Lisa found an advert looking for teachers to help set up an innovative new school in the tropical rainforest of Bali, it was like a dream come true. Her husband Victor applied for the job, and soon the whole family set off to embark on their new adventure. But life is usually not that simple, and Lisa and her family soon find out that their tropical paradise is not what it was supposed to be.
I loved Lisa’s candid writing style, her self-deprecating humour and her warts-and-all approach in describing her “seachange”. There are no enlightened moments with Balinese medicine men or serene rides through lush rainforest on an old-fashioned bicycle to the gentle tinkle of windchimes. Instead, her days are spent squashing giant killer ants that threaten to carry off her daughter in the middle of the night, hiding under layers of netting to escape swarms of dengue infected mosquitoes and scraping thick mould off bamboo furniture and walls to the deafening sounds of gamelan music as she is reflecting on her crisis-stricken marriage. There were quite a few funny moments, too, like Lisa’s standoff with a protective male monkey, which I related to from our own personal experiences in Bali – I never forget the time when my husband tried to fend off the fang-bearing killer monkey with his thong (the flip-flop kind, not the underwear) whilst his womenfolk fled in panic. Lisa, if you had indeed spent some time in Kuta with those beer-swilling Aussie rugby teams you may have learned some life-saving thong combat action!
Whilst Lisa spends many lonely, miserable days in the country she had hoped would be the answer to all her problems, she reflects on the eat-pray-love phenomenon and questions herself on her lack of Gilbertian enlightenment. Having been to Bali I can see that living in a rather basic bamboo hut in the middle of the Balinese rainforest without some of the conveniences we take for granted would look a lot more serene in a movie (or the Green School advertising clip I found on Youtube) than in real life. I appreciated Lisa’s honesty as she shared her struggles every step of the way, and the way her Western views regularly clashed with the different cultural practices she is faced with in her new home. Her inner probings to explore her capacity for unhappiness are relevant in our society today and made for some reflection on my part whilst I was reading her honest account. I have read somewhere before that characters in books never seem to eat or pee – well, Lisa has it all in her book, which makes it all the more relatable! What also made this book speak to me is that I knew most of the places Lisa talked about in her story – we may even have aooommmmhed on neighbouring yoga mats during a yoga session at the Ubud Yoga Barn without realising it.
All in all, Lisa Kusel’s memoir is a poignant account of a woman searching for happiness and contentment in a far away land, only to find that all her problems have followed her. Written with honesty and humour, Rash will appeal to everyone who has ever dreamed of escaping it all. I hope that Lisa and her family have found contentment in their new life in Vermont and that the year in Bali is but a distant memory that ultimately brought them closer together. If nothing else, it made for a damn good read!
Thank you to the author for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.