October 07, 2011
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
Troost and his girlfriend Sylvia decide they need to get away from it all after graduating from college. They apply for jobs all over and finally one comes in from a little island in the Pacific, Tarawa, which is a part of the Republic of Kiribati. Since he is essentially a "house husband" here he finds himself spending the days surfing, cleaning, worrying about clean water and trying to find some sort of food. Most worrying is that with the abundance of people and no reliable waste disposal, the surrounding area is very toxic and even the local fish are dangerous to eat. It certainly provides an adventure for even surviving on the island.
Troost and his girlfriend spend two years on this island where gradually they become used to the living conditions (although not the Macarena, which is played constantly by everyone). Although somewhat deceiving there is cannibalism and an interesting sex life portrayed on the island. But it isn't by the people, but rather the wild dogs that roam the area. They manage to survive their time but it leaves them deeply changed and the last chapter deals with how they try to adjust to life in America and their attempts to buy clothes, shop for groceries in a place that provides maximum choices, and re-adjusting to needing money for most things.
Troost is a very funny writer. While his work isn't very polished it does have a great flow to it and he injects a huge amount of humor into it. With his descriptions it is easy to see the island where he lives through his words. You can see the beaches, the trees, the glaringly hot sun. But to this same extent you can see the filth, the mangy animals and the other disastrous elements that makes the island a dangerous place to live. Troost is a great narrator and his voice provides a good telling for the story. My only complaint would be that he is very whiny. Yes he tells everything as hilarious, but overall there is a sense of self pity in the book. Its almost as if he barely found anything utterly fantastic and that there was a bad element to everything.
He does a decent job of describing the people of the island. They are varied in their thoughts but all love storytelling, eating good food, and beer. On an island there's not much to do so singing and dancing and overall just music is a great hobby here. They also have "local legends" of their own and love telling Troost stories about the people and area. He in turn gives us a nice retelling of some of these stories.
This book was definitely one of the better ones I've read of his. I'll probably continue to read his books and look forward to some of the other places he visits and writes about.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals