on July 2, 2006
I stumbled upon Troost's first book in Powell's due to a 'Staff Recommendation' and devoured it within a day: A truly funny and engaging read. The following day I ran out and purchased this expecting more of the same but it ain't. Well, not exactly anyway. Whereas I read his first book in a day, it has taken me over a week to get through this and I doubt I'll finish it actually. What's the difference? Well, to start with the premise is that Troost will write a 'Travel Book' in the vein of Evelyn Waugh, and Paul Theroux around A year that spent living in Fiji and Vanuatu. His previous book revolved around the two years he spent in Kiribati. This latter book was a masterpiece of humor, anecdote, gentle self-deprecation and just pure good will. It was fresh and engaging and a real pleasure to read because of the author's uncanny ability to turn small events into good story fodder and for his willigness and ability to mock himself within the adventures told of. The present book suffers by contrast because I believe the author has slipped from glib and insouciant bonhommie to rather smug and smarmy world weariness as he grinds out his tale of two situses. Whereas in the former book the author took delight in the tiny details which he really used well to make his point, we find in this book these exquisite little details have been replaced by A sort of slapdash broadbrush treatment of large themes such as 'trip to an island dance' or 'month in the city.' It isn't very fulfilling in any event and one feels as though the author may either have been allowing his lack of enthusiasm for the semi-colonial life typical of many expatriate experiences to color his judgment, or perhaps was caught up in writer fatigue as he was writing a very similar story about a very similar place under similar circumstances very close in time to each other.
Anyway, I don't want to shush you away from this book but I would like for you to consider buying the author's earlier effort first so that you can see what A truly fun travelogue reads like. For those of you who loved his first book I'm giving fair warning that this one pales in comparison.
on September 8, 2006
J. Maarten Troost's sophomore effort is another travel memoir about a suburbanite displaced to a remote, third-world culture. This time around, he's not merely following his wife's career in assisting impoverished countries. He's not moving around the world for lack of anything better to do; he's moving of his own free will and desire. Maarten and Sylvia, after returning temporarily to the hectic pace of Washington, D.C., make a conscious decision to return to the South Pacific and start a family. They research locations, look for employment, and consider the political unrest in various locales before deciding on their new homeland.
In his first memoir, Troost's reluctant adoption of his new culture is the core of the story. Heck, he wasn't even sure why he agreed to go there! His writing drew the reader into a foreign culture, bringing a higher level of appreciation for a dirty, poor, unconventional village that the average American wouldn't survive a day in. This time around, Troost has a goal of actively exploring his settings and writing a second book. The premise doesn't succeed quite as well as his fish-out-of-water basis for the first memoir.
Troost spends days bonding with natives over the psychedlic high providing by kava, but in the end, he appears to be just another man trying to escape with alcohol or drugs, only now it is conveniently packaged as a cultural experience. He is on a quest for a message and a purpose for his book, running around trying to find cannibals and other interesting characters to interview. The action seems forced. He's lost the innocence and reluctance that made the first memoir so wonderful. Is this still a great travel book? Absolutely! It is leagues above most anything else on the market. Unfortunately, Troost just set the bar really high with his first success.
I especially enjoyed the story of the Troosts' search for proper pre-natal and natal medical care for their first child. The end up moving within the region to begin their family, providing even more humorous material for our author (ever imagine paying for deluxe cable only to get three channels--the national station, a Bollywood station, and a sport channel which focuses on "Korean ping-pong and Malaysian high school basketball?").
Troot is a talented humorist who will open your eyes to an amazing world on the other side of the planet. Again and again, his tales serve to remind Americans how much danger and disease they are protected from every day. This will remain my second favorite of his efforts to date, but I welcome his third travel memoir!
on June 17, 2006
Back to the South Pacific, but this time to Vanuatu and Fiji.
Curiously, cannibalism is much more relevant in this book than
in Sex Lives of Cannibals--maybe he should have saved the word
for here! Once again we escape from the structured life of
suits-and-ties and commuting to visit exotic places. You'll
read about visiting active volcanoes where tourists had been
killed a few weeks before, foot-long poisonous centipedes, the
joys of drinking kava, which is best if you don't think about
how it's made, and cannibalism, which last occurred in Vanuatu
within the author's lifetime.
Troost is a very engaging and humorous writer, frequently poking
fun at himself. And yet....and yet..there seemed to be
a difference between this book and Sex Lives--something that
gave his first book a full 5 stars, something that maybe wasn't
exactly missing here, but something that didn't quite captivate
you as his first book had done. It's been a year since I read
Sex Lives, and there are scenes that stand out in my mind from
that book--the lagoon where you would like to swim filled with
used disposable diapers, for example. Having thought things
over, I think that the problem is that in Sex Lives, there was
so much that seemed totally alien to most of our lives--such
as the lagoon with diapers. In Getting Stoned with Savages, a
lot of what we see is not as alien--you can get hurricanes and
transvestites in New Orleans or Florida, volcanoes in the
Caribbean and Central America, corrupt politicians everywhere.
The difference bewteen the idyllic view of the South Pacific
and reality in Kiribati is great, the difference in Vanuatu and
Fiji is substantial, but not as great. Still--a fine read!
In his best-selling travel memoir The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J. Maarten Troost chronicled the two years he spent living in Kiribati in the equatorial Pacific with his girlfriend Sylvia. After the period covered by the book Troost spent another two years in Washington D.C. working as, of all things, a "hoity-toity consultant to the World Bank," a change in lifestyle akin to, say, giving up a job on Gilligan's Island to work for Donald Trump. Fortunately the suit and tie and dependable paycheck of buttoned-down life didn't capture Troost, and he and Sylvia left civilization behind again, lured by warmer climes and the laid-back tropical mentality: "Stuff happens, but tomorrow the sun will rise again."
This time the couple moved to Vanuatu--formerly the New Hebrides--a country about the size of Connecticut that's composed of some 80 islands and lies directly on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is to say that it's geologically interesting: Vanuatu has nine active volcanoes and experiences frequent, even daily, earthquakes. But more alarming than the tremors and the lava and the frequent cyclones, more alarming even than the shark-infested waters that put a damper on life in paradise, are the foot-long, poisonous, carnivorous, child-killing centipedes that live in Vanuatu. That's right, killer centipedes. And if you should get up the nerve to take an axe to one of them and, say, chop it into five pieces, it doesn't mean you've done away with it: it means you've now got five killer centipedes running around loose. Paradise has its price.
In addition to recounting his harrowing adventures with the island wildlife, Troost writes about Vanuatu's history and culture and living conditions. He spends a good deal of time describing the experience of drinking kava, a muddy liquid--"to the uninitiated...the most wretchedly foul-tasting beverage ever concocted by Man"--that became Troost's drug of choice on the island. And, happily, Troost put considerable effort into researching the country's long--and relatively recent--history of cannibalism:
"The last officially recorded incident of cannibalism in Vanuatu was in 1969 on the island of Malekula. I was born in 1969, and while I am willing to concede that 1969 is rapidly receding into the dim mists of time, it wasn't that long ago. Humor me. It seemed to me that if people were still officially gnawing at human limbs in 1969, it was more than possible that, since then, there had been some off-the-books cannibalism going on in Vanuatu."
About two-thirds of the way into the book, Sylvia having become pregnant, the couple decided to move to Fiji, where delivery promised to be less nightmarish. Fiji, it turned out, was full of prostitutes, both male and female, and Troost recounts his adventures on that front with his usual good humor.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Troost's first book, was a laugh-out-loud funny, you-must-go-buy-it-now kind of read. (Really, go buy it now.) Getting Stoned with Savages is not quite as good a book. It drags a bit when Troost is talking about Vanuatu's government, for example. But it suffers in comparison only because the author set the bar so very, very high with his first book. Getting Stoned with Savages is a funny book, and Troost's a likeable, self-deprecating, witty guide through the cultures and countries of Vanuatu and Fiji. Since I'll never be going to either country, I'm glad Troost is around to write about them for us. And I hope he winds up writing a great many more books.
Debra Hamel -- author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece (Yale University Press, 2003)
on December 16, 2014
I picked up this book on a whim. After reading some reviews it sounds like most people who bought this had perviously read "Sex Lives of Cannibals." For me this was not the case so I don't have much to compare it to but I found this book shockingly bad. Troost tends to get onto a subject I find intriguing and totally kill it by rambling for a page and a half about nothing in particular. For example, Troost mentions why he liked the museum in Suva. He then proceeds to ramble for another page about how boring he typically finds museums and why. Writing about what bores you doesn't make for a compelling anecdote and by the time he finally gets back to his original point I've completely forgotten what it was. It's things like this that cut into what little narrative there is to begin with and makes it quite difficult to stay engaged. I would often find myself skipping large sections of gibberish to get back to the main story. A decent editor could easily cut 100 pages from this novel and not really lose anything of value.
on March 21, 2007
Getting Stoned with Savages: Tripping Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu is the second offering from travel writer, J. Maarten Troost. I read and adored his first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, a few years ago and fell instantly in love with Troost's humor and candor. So, as you might imagine, when I heard about Getting Stoned with Savages, I quickly and single-mindedly stalked it on BookMooch.com until I had a pristine copy in my talons.
Maarten and his wife, Sylvia, after returning from a harrowing few years on the South Pacific atoll of Tarawa, resume a somewhat normal life in Washington, D.C. Maarten, with an eye on earning a living, takes a job as a consultant for the World Bank but soon finds that he is inching dangerously closer to what seems a full-blown career. With that horrifying fact in mind, he promptly gets fired and the Troosts set off for a life in Vanuatu, a small, rugged cluster of islands. Sylvia works for an international aid organization and earns a Western living that comes in handy on Vanuatu, and the arrangement leaves Maarten the time and opportunity to write. When Sylvia becomes pregnant the family relocates to the slightly more "civilized" Fiji where they round out their latest round of island adventures.
While both of Troost's travel memoirs have undoubtedly catchy titles, this second offering has much more to do with its respective title than Troost's first book. On the islands of Fiji and Vanuatu a most popular social activity is the consumption of a hallucinogenic drink called kava. Traditionally produced by the chewing of a root by male adolescents and then mixing with water, the kava is then served in bars (shacks more like) called nakamals. Shortly after arriving in Vanuatu, Maarten and Sylvia have the pleasure of consuming a few "shells" of kava. Troost writes:
Clearly this was different than drinking wine. With kava, one didn't admire its lush hue, or revel in its aromatic bouquet, or note the complex interplay of oak and black currant. This was more like heroin. Its consumption was something that was to be endured. The effect was everything. What concerned me, however, was not the taste but the possibility that this bowl of swirling brown liquid may have had as one of its essential ingredients the spit of unseen boys, which, frankly, I found a little off-putting.
Much to Maarten's relief, a friend informs him that while the chewing of the kava is generally the preferred method because it produces a supremely potent product, the kava they ingest is simply ground and strained through a sock. Better? Perhaps.
The kava story is just one of many instances that are enlivened by Troost's humor. But beyond the blatant out-loud laughing that I did while reading the book, there's also a real humanity and wonder in Troost's writing. The overall theme of the work is aptly expressed when he writes, "Paradise was a place that could be seen only from a distance, but it pleased me knowing that we lived so close to it."
Quite literally there is a dark side to island life. The islands harbor a history of cannibalism, there is overwhelming poverty, rampant prostitution, and political instability. On the side of the positive, however, the majority of the people are friendly and welcoming and willing to help the foreigners along in their new surroundings. In a more philosophical way, Maarten begins to see that while chasing paradise has been a good experience for his family, and they quite often find it in even the most outrageous of circumstances, at some point it becomes important to pursue a type of paradise near family and friends, even if it means rejoining the Western world with all of its bustle and baggage.
I think what I admire most about Troost's writing is his supreme respect for the cultures in which he lives. While he is quick to make jokes about his feelings and reactions to new cultural experiences, he is also more than willing to devote time to evaluation of the culture's economy, hardships, priorities, and the well-being of native peoples. What sets the Troost family apart from the tourists they often encounter on the islands is a seemingly honest willingness to engage with the culture, observe it, and try to avoid infringing too much on the world in which they live, even if some parts of their character and situation will always make them outsiders. It is this attitude of curiosity and respect which really makes me a fan of J. Maarten Troost and his adventures.
on July 24, 2006
Really, all the other reviewers have said it already but to reiterate their opinion that this book seems a lot more judgemental and "ooh, look at the odd foreigners" than his previous effort. He needs a new subject.
But I also wanted to mention that having spent some time in Vanuatu, one of the things that either he didn't say or I missed is that kava (besides tasting horrible) can make you very, very sick. One of my mates spent two days in bed feeling very ill indeed, so if you're on holiday there for a week, just be careful....
on January 25, 2013
I finished Mr. Troost's book, "Sex Lives of Cannibals," and I liked it so much that I purchased "Getting Stoned with the Savages." I was enjoying this book -- until I got to the part where is basically cut/pasted in sections from "Sex Lives of Cannibals" when he went on to described his situation with a cat named PIP and a centipede. I was pissed! You can use the story to some point in the book to give a background, but to literally cut/paste pages of text into the new book is just wrong. I feel that Mr. Troost owes me a new book! He's been away in the South Pacific for years, yet he cannot come up with next text for the latest book? What happened? Too much Kava? Was a deadline coming up, so he just cut/pasted chapters? COME ON! I felt cheated. In fact, I'm not sure I can even finish "Getting Stoned with the Savages," and I switched to a new book today. It was a really disappointing find. So, basically, if you read "Sex Lives of Cannibals," you can consider that you also read "Getting Stoned with the Savages."
on April 20, 2016
J Maarten Troost was one of my favorite authors of all time. His book "Sex lives of Cannibals" will forever stay on my shelf. This book will not. His writing style seems to have changed drastically from the previous books, and I had a difficult time staying interested as his adventure progressed.
on July 9, 2015
I read his 1st book ''Sex Lives of Cannibals'' and loved it. After reading this one, I wanted to read every book he's written. It's such delicious reading,
that I read it slowly to enjoy every bite and morsel. I also would like to thank his wife for affording him the time to write these wonderful stories/books. How anyone could not love and enjoy these books is beyond me. Thank you J. for the many hours of enjoyment, education and
humor which shall stay with me long after their reading!