Lisa Kusel described her recent memoir, titled Rash, as “A bit of an anti-“Eat, Pray, Love” sort of tale, in that I moved to Bali to find inner peace and renew my marriage, etc. etc., but I ended up having to run away from paradise in order to find happiness.” The book is inspiring and relates well to the faithful cliche of how “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”.
The author and her family whisked themselves away to beautiful Bali in hopes of island adventures, gorgeous beach views, and the chance to do something amazing. Kusel wanted change in her life and also a calming atmosphere to pen her next great novel. Her husband, a devoted educator named Victor, was drawn to the chance of developing a green school that was dedicated to environmental sustainability. Kusel felt the trip to Bali was an opportunity that they needed to embrace, plus it would allow their daughter to reap all of the benefits that came from traveling abroad and learning within a different culture.
Although she knew it would be work, Kusel’s daydreams of vibrant sunsets and relaxing in the tropical climate were overshadowed by the harsh humidity and countless insects. Because as Kusel’s mother foreshadowed in this blog post (also written by Kusel), visiting paradise and living within its reaches as permanent residents are two very different things.
The initial complications with living in Bali have to do with Victor’s teaching position and all of its shortcomings. Kusel soon learns that being in on the ground floor of this particular green school system was a much more literal description than either she or her husband realized. They arrive in Bali to no hosts and an unfinished home that already has insects taking up permanent residency. Many of the other staff are also without housing which begins a thread of chaos that continually plagues the educators, its staff, and founders throughout the entire memoir.
Kusel re-examines her life and her grumblings about Bali in depth through her writing. She deals with the always present “mom guilt” because she was the one who originally pushed for the family to move to an island in Indonesia, but ends up loathing much of the experience. Her grouchiness over an unreliable hot water system, the inability to find writing motivation, and a constant need to cover ones skin in high grade insect repellent takes its toll on her and her marriage.
The Bali experience had Kusel doubting her ability to mother, write, and be a good wife. She often wondered throughout the pages if she had enough strength to stay while her marriage unraveled. In between the chapters surrounding Kusel and her family’s situation are interesting tidbits about the Balinese culture. Kusel writes about how she had to tussle with a monkey in the jungle and come to terms with the manic style of driving throughout crowded streets. For Kusel, living in Bali regularly involveD worrying her daughter would contract dengue fever while suppressing the urge to argue with her stressed out husband. The trials of hardship and moments of heartbreak do not allow Kusel to find any amount of the inner peace she was in search of on the island. However, lessons are learned and ultimately her family reconnects and leaves Bali a stronger unit.
RASH is a highly entertaining memoir. It is also authentic and raw. Mothers and wives will appreciate Kusel’s honesty, and non-fiction lovers will enjoy reading about the Bali culture. The lessons the author learns about herself, her marriage, and her craft as a writer are worth reading for any book lover.
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