Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Like many air travelers, I am aware that airplanes fly aided by capricious fairies and invisible strings."

So begins the third chapter of The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, a 2004 travelogue by author J. Maarten Troost describing the two years he and his girlfriend spent living on the Tarawa atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. In the book Troost describes how he came to discover that the tiny sliver of land in the South Pacific, barely known to the outside world, was not the tropical paradise he thought it would be. Nevertheless, he and his girlfriend Sylvia build a home for themselves in Kiribati, alongside a host of colorful local characters, all the while having new encounters with the bizarre and unfamiliar.

In those two years, he learned to overcome the dearth of practically all food except fish ("raw or boiled"), the extreme heat (only Mormon missionaries wore pants), and a lethargic government he describes as "coconut Stalinism"—"though Stalin, at least, got something done." He meets the poet laureate, a twenty-one-year-old Englishman who hasn't written a poem since arriving on the island, and survives the "Great Beer Crisis," when the Australian supply ship went to Kiritimati Island instead of Tarawa, thus failing to provide the island with much needed beer. He copes with frequent electrical and water shortages, and struggles to get a subscription to The New Yorker from a hapless operator, who insists that Kiribati is not in the magazine's database. ("It's an independent country. It's been an independent country for almost twenty years. Surely The New Yorker's database of independent countries has been updated in the past twenty years.").
At the same time, Troost also challenges American complacency toward its own history, by doing so little to remember the many troops that died in the Battle of Tarawa during World War II, and the many foreign aid workers and consultants, who fail to consider the islanders' real needs or local culture.
Edit recommended this book, and I’m glad she did. The book was laugh out loud funny, and also heartbreaking in its descriptions of the world’s superpowers’ rape of the economy and environment of this tiny country.


Blogger sage said...

this book sounds interesting--I'd heard of it--the title itself is kind of funny--I need to catch up on some book reviews

12:52 PM  
Blogger EditThis said...

I love Troost. You must read the sequel, Getting Stoned with the Savages.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Prunella Jones said...

I've actually read that book and I did enjoy it. It kind of made me reconsider my living on an island fantasy. I didn't know there was a sequel. Thanks, Editthis!

6:28 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

sage - I was able to get a bit of reading in on vacation - I look forward to your reviews

edit - I bought the sequel, too

pru - my living on an island fantasy runs more to Maui . . .

8:12 AM  

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