A couple of weeks ago I was at a conference talking to an agent about my book, Ups & Downs, and she chastised me for not being familiar with J. Maarten Troost. “You have to do your homework,” she said. I mentioned that we’ve been comparing our book to Bill Bryson, to which she replied that Troost is “like a younger, hipper Bill Bryson.”
So I decided to do my homework, stopping by BookPeople to pick up this one – the best of Troost’s three books according to consumer reviews on Amazon.com – to bring with me on a trip to Calgary for a cousin’s wedding.
I have to admit, I was more than a little hesitant to bring this book along for the ride. Although I was fairly certain that the title was just a clever attention-grabber – that in fact the book would talk about sex for at most a chapter or two – I wasn’t certain it was a great idea to bring on a trip with my in-laws a book that says “Sex” in big bold lettering on the cover.
I was right, by the way. In fact, I was a little disappointed at the lack of sex discussed in the book, although upon reflection I realize that the topic was probably discussed as much as necessary. Maybe I was just expecting some more lurid descriptions, rather than the uncomfortable discussions of how a man, wanting a woman to marry him instead of her fiance, kidnapped and raped her for two weeks until her fiance wouldn’t marry her because of the shame. So she married her kidnapper, and was happy in her marriage, because he didn’t drink or beat her. There’s also the celibacy that precedes the independence day celebration and a discussion on the courting rituals of dogs, which, in case you were wondering, were really the only cannibals discussed in the book. Unless you count biting off someone’s nose, which is an accepted course course of action for a jealous spouse.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific is Troost’s recounting of his and his wife’s two years in Kiribati, a group of islands in the South Pacific whose landmass is roughly the size of Baltimore but is spread out in 33 pieces across a vast expanse of ocean roughly the size of the continental United States. Although he went expecting the proverbial tropical paradise, what he found instead on Tarawa, the capital island, was littered, disgusting, and disease ridden.
The agent’s assessment of Troost was overall pretty accurate. The book fits the “good-natured curmudgeon-style travel adventure” genre, with a mixture of shocking, disgusting, and groan-worthy observations, much of which is gut-wrenchingly hilarious. As food and weather serve as recurring themes, I thought back to Ups & Downs, where we expressed similar tribulations though of an altogether different sort. I noted how he managed to repeat those portions without overdoing it, which is something we worked really hard on ourselves – letting the reader know just how the rain and our meals played to the forefront of our minds, without hammering you with it so much that you get sick of hearing it. I was also struck by how incredibly similar the books arcs are. Of course, we have two authors where Sex Lives has only the one, but he starts out recounting his prior adventures that led to this particular one, before immersing himself in the complete culture shock of the adventure that in many ways was completely unlike what he expected. We hear struggle after struggle, each chapter forming its own story with its own conflict, ending on a satisfying victory with an obstacle overcome. And then, at the end, the reverse culture shock of a reintegration for which we were not altogether prepared.
So if you, reading this post, liked Ups & Downs, you’ll no doubt like The Sex Lives of Cannibals, and the reverse is also true.
Our b0ok has more sex in it though.