I’m not really sure what I was expecting from a book entitled “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” I suppose I just thought it sounded catchy, and perhaps this was the author’s goal. The travel book is a true story of sorts, at least as much as one can believe the wild tales and vivid imagination of Maarten Troost, a man stuck on Kiribati, a nation of islands in the equatorial Pacific totaling about 720 square kilometers. Though he and his wife are there by choice while she works for an NGO (Non-Government Organization) difficulty getting to and from are a reality of this remote nation.
As I read through the descriptions of the masses of diapers on the beach, heat so unbearable that doing anything in the daylight is almost unthinkable, the constant blaring of “la Macarena,” and the dilapidated state of the country’s single aircraft (which stays in the air thanks in large part to masking tape) I found myself wondering how on earth anyone could cope with suddenly finding themselves stuck in such a situation.
It doesn’t take long to realize that a perverse sense of humor and the ability to abandon his first world mindset were among the factors that managed to get the author through this 2 year hiatus from the realities of modern living. Unbelievable as it may seem, Troost manages to make nearly dying in a Pacific storm or keeping score of the dogs he and his wife runs over seem absolutely hilarious.
The chapter titles alone provide a window in to the bizarre inner workings of Troost‘s mind:
[blockquote] Chapter 2: In which the Author reveals the Fruit of his Research into the Strange Island Nation he has declared his new Home (which leaves much unknown), compensates for his Ignorance with his Lively Imagination (which is inadequate, very much so), and Packs (inappropriately) [/blockquote]
I suppose what made this book so amazing to me is that as a traveler, I can identify with a number of the oddities and intricacies he describes in navigating foreign cultures. Sometimes the culture clash leaves me in shock, sometimes I laugh at idiosyncrasies, but eventually I usually find my own way to enjoy their culture. Troost finds himself in just that position – despite some huge cultural differences, he and his wife Sylvia manage to make Kiribati their home. They become so integrated that returning to city life is portrayed as terrifying at first, an experience often unanticipated by many travelers. It left them with a burning desire to return to the Pacific and find another island to call home.
If you currently are or will be spending any time abroad immersing yourself in local culture and tradition, I highly recommend reading The Sex Lives of Cannibals, it was definitely one of the better travel books I’ve devoured. Through Kiribati is certainly on the extreme end of the travel spectrum, it will no doubt give you a taste of what to expect.
Even if you aren’t traveling the book is still a hilarious read.
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