The Sex Lives of Cannibals:
Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific
By J. Maarten Troost, Broadway Books, 272 pages, $19.95
Most people go through a period of indecision about what they should do with their lives, but most do not end up on an isolated atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as a result of this confusion. J. Maarten Troost, however, does exactly that when his girlfriend lands an NGO job in Kiribati and he tags along, hoping to find inspiration for a novel. What he finds instead is a series of real-life adventures and the realization that the tropical paradise of postcards is not all its cracked up to be.
Troost immediately grabs the reader's attention with a droll table of contents that summarizes each chapter with witty references to adventures and mishaps to come -- none of which, despite the grabber of a title, have anything to do with the sex lives of cannibals.
Troost's writing weaves from historical background, thoughtful observation and analysis of the people and events he witnesses, to humorous outtakes of his own mishaps. His stories alternately make you wish that you were there sharing his adventure, or glad that you are reading his tales while surrounded by the comforts of home.
Searching for literary inspiration, Troost seeks out adventures that often end in disaster. After a less than noble start to the art of surfing, he is relegated to body boarding, but still gets crushed by a six-metre wave. A sailing trip that nearly results in death on coral reefs cements his newfound appreciation for nature and the hazards of living in paradise.
On the domestic front, he tries to be a good provider to his "beguiling girlfriend." Unfortunately, the islanders' "taste buds died when the British arrived" and brought with them a love of canned corn beef and all things bland.
Desperate for news from the outside world, Troost tries to subscribe to The New Yorker so he can find out why everyone is talking about the U.S. president and a stained blue dress. Not surprisingly, Kiribati is not included in the magazine's subscription database.
Troost may not have given us a novel, but he has produced a richly nuanced, humorous account of adventures and of Kiribati itself that is likely to be as close to living on a deserted isle as most of us will ever get.