Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Sex Lives of Cannibals

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific
by J. Maarten Troost
Bantam Books, 2004
trade paperback, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780767915304
humorous travelogue
Very Highly Recommended

From the Publisher
At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost—who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs—decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish—all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is “La Macarena.” He and his stalwart girlfriend Sylvia spend the next two years battling incompetent government officials, alarmingly large critters, erratic electricity, and a paucity of food options (including the Great Beer Crisis); and contending with a bizarre cast of local characters, including “Half-Dead Fred” and the self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of Tarawa (a British drunkard who’s never written a poem in his life).

With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost has delivered one of the most original, rip-roaringly funny travelogues in years—one that will leave you thankful for staples of American civilization such as coffee, regular showers, and tabloid news, and that will provide the ultimate vicarious adventure.
My Thoughts:

The Sex Lives of Cannibals is hilarious. This is the adventures of Troost and his girlfriend who go to live on the atoll Tarawa in the Pacific. It is more a humorous reflection on what lead up to their decision to move to Tarawa and their subsequent adventures living there than an actual travelogue, but there are some good insights and information in the book. I actually appreciated Troost's sense of humor more than Bill Bryson's. He is funny, often in a lighthearted, self-deprecating way. Troost can find humor in the most mundane daily tasks. The chapter titles are long, descriptive, and funny. By the way, cannibals are briefly mentioned as well as sex, but nothing approaching both of the two subject together. Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


Chapter 1 In which the Author expresses some Dissatisfaction with the State of his Life, ponders briefly prior Adventures and Misfortunes, and with the aid of his Beguiling Girlfriend, decides to Quit the Life that is known to him and make forth with all Due Haste for Parts Unknown:

One day, I moved with my girlfriend Sylvia to an atoll in the Equatorial Pacific. The atoll was called Tarawa, and should a devout believer in a flat earth ever alight upon its meager shore, he (or she) would have to accept that he (or she) had reached the end of the world. Even cartographers relegate Tarawa either to the abyss of the crease or to the far periphery of the map, assigning to the island a kindly dot that still manages to greatly exaggerate its size. At the time, I could think of no better destination than this heat-blasted sliver of coral. Tarawa was the end of the world, and for two years it became the center of mine. opening

Let me say at the top here that I didn't have a particularly good reason for moving to Tarawa. There was nothing Quaker-ish, Thoreau-ish, Gauguin-ish (as you wish) about my taking a little leave from Western civilization, which I thought was fine mostly, particularly as manifested in certain parts of Italy. True, I had worries. News You Can Use, the peculiar link between consumption and identity, professional athletes who strike, Cokie Roberts, the Lazarus-like resuscitations of Geraldo Rivera's career, and the demise of the Washington Redskins as a team to be reckoned with all gave me pause and even some anxiety regarding the general course of Western society. However, these issues seemed insufficient to justify a renunciation of continental comfort. I was simply restless, quite likely because of a dissatisfaction with the recent trajectory of my life, and if there is a better, more compelling reason for dropping everything and moving to the end of the world, I know not what it is. pg. 2

And so after six years of exceedingly expensive, private school tertiary education combined with the amassment of some interesting and potentially job-relevant experiences elsewhere in the world, I became a minimum-wage temp, an experience that need not be recounted with much detail, though I will note that to be a temp is to have all the illusions and conceits of youth shattered, which was useful and necessary though disagreeable. pg. 6

"A story is like a car trip," tutored my editor. "You, the writer, are the car that takes readers from point A to B to C without leaving the road." As careful readers may have already surmised, I favor the ditches of digression. pg. 10

The word Kiribati, pronounced kir-ee-bas on account of the missionaries being stingy with the letters they used to transcribe the language, is derived from the word Gilberts, which is the name of one of the three island groups that comprise this improbable nation. Located just a notch above the equator and five thousand miles from anywhere, Tarawa is the capital of this country of thirty -three atolls scattered over an ocean area as large as the continental United States. The total landmass of these islands is about three hundred square miles, roughly the size of the greater Baltimore metropolitan area, though I believe it halves at high tide. pg. 15

Like many air travelers, I am aware that airplanes fly aided by capricious fairies and invisible strings. Typically, this causes me some concern. pg. 21


sally906 said...

I have this on my TBR pile - hadn't heard of it - but might move it up the pile a bit after this review :)

Lori L said...

I'll be waiting for your review to see if you liked it as much as I did!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This book was so funny! He has a few more out as well.

Lori L said...

I've read Getting Stoned with Savages so now I just need to read his book about China. That should be interesting since ny husband has traveled to China for business several times.

Lisa said...

Every review I've read of this one loved it, but I didn't. I read it prior to blogging so there is no review. His "voice" annoyed me and I couldn't enjoy it. The one part that sticks out in my mind though is his swim in the bay.