The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific (Review)

April 1, 2011

Book cover for "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" by J. Maarten Troost.Title: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

Author: J. Maarten Troost

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publication Year: 2004

Pages: 272 (audio length: 8 hours 35 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel

Source: Purchased audiobook version from Audible.com

From the cover:

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, and worst of all, no television or coffee. And that’s just the first day.

Sunburned, emaciated, and stinging with sea lice, Troost spends the next two years battling incompetent government officials, alarmingly large critters, erratic electricity, and a paucity of food options. He contends with a cast of bizarre 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), and eventually settles into the ebb and flow of island life, just before his return to the culture shock of civilization.

With the rollicking wit of Bill Bryson, the brilliant travel exposition of Paul Theroux, and a hipster edge that is entirely Troost’s own, The Sex Lives of Cannibals is the ultimate vicarious adventure. Readers may never long to set foot on Tarawa, but they’ll want to travel with Troost time and time again.

I have to say, I enjoyed this book rather more than I did Lost On Planet China. Maybe it was just the mood that I was in when I read the last one, because I found this one absolutely fantastic.

Essentially, the book is about what it says above – Troost’s girlfriend gets a job on Tarawa, this tiny island in the South Pacific, and hilariaty ensues. I hadn’t really realized before reading this book that there were land masses that small that were actually inhabited full-time. (Chalk it up to my apparently lacking geography education.) But the way that Troost told the story, it was almost like travelling to the end of the world with him – right from the beginning when he describes the multiple plane trips that it takes to actually reach Kiribatis (pronounced “Kee-ree-bass”), the country that Tarawa is a part of.

Most of Troost’s stories in The Sex Lives of Cannibals were completely outlandish, and yet the way that he told them made me believe them absolutely. It was hard for a bit to pull myself out of the mindset of someone who lives in a “first world” (I prefer “developed”) country, but as the anecdotes piled up, it just somehow happened. I could feel his confusion and amusement as things went wrong – or even right – in ways that you could never imagine.

I think that part of why I found the story so hilarious was due to the choice of narrator. Vance was incredible in the way that he told the stories. It was almost like sitting around in a bar with your friends, the way that he used his voice to convey the point of the story. And the humour of Troost’s writing really came through in the narration, which is likely part of why I enjoyed this book so much more than Lost in Planet China. I have a tendency not to really “get” deadpan humour when it’s written down, so maybe the oral narration of this book made it work for me.

Having said that, it really is “just” a story that’s mostly about the funny life and adventures of one guy in a country most of us will never, ever set eyes upon. So while I definitely recommend The Sex Lives of Cannibals for light-hearted reading, I can’t really say much about its content in terms of Serious Life Lessons or anything like that.

I did enjoy it an awful lot, though.

Rating:

4 Comments

  • Jeane April 1, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Makes me think of a Heyerdahl book about life on a little island- Fatu-Hiva. This one sounds a lot more amusing!

    • Carina May 24, 2011 at 10:40 am

      I can’t believe how many books there are about life on tiny islands!

  • softdrink April 1, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    I have this one tucked away on a shelf somewhere…I keep hearing good things about it, but I haven’t been much into the travel memoirs lately.

    • Carina May 24, 2011 at 10:40 am

      Even if you just wait until you’re in the mood for “funny” you won’t be disappointed. It’s more humourous than simply travel-based.

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