Thursday, July 14, 2005

Book Review: J. Maarten Troost's "The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

When 20-something J. Maarten Troost and his girlfriend decided to accept a job offer for the girlfriend in a tiny little island in the South Pacific named Kiribati, but pronounced Kiribawa, they were certainly looking for adventure. However, this tiny little island just north of the equator was nothing like either of them had ever experienced, or indeed, ever imagined. For starters, it was hotter than Hades and although their home was just a stone's throw from the ocean, the waters were infested with sharks and tempting as the turquoise blue waters were, Troost didn't dare go for a swim initially.

"I was left alone to ponder the immensity of the ocean and the giant sharks that were undoubtedly lingering behind the house waiting for some stupid foreigner to go for a swim. I scanned the water closely. I began to imagine terrible things. Terrible things. But that water looked outrageously appealing. It was, to reiterate, to stress, the accentuate the point, to leave no doubt, hot. Staggeringly hot. The heat blasted from a contemptible sun; it came unbidden from the white coral sand; it floated on humid waves...I yearned for Canada. I imagined tundra..."

And if the heat was bad, the food was even worse---there was only fish to be had and tins of Spam. (from reading I have done, it is easy to conclude that people from the South Pacific really enjoy their Spam and Corned beef in the tin, and yet, western writers, including Oliver Sacks, Paul Theoroux, and now Troost, have come to see Spam as some kind of a vile symbol of Western culture being imposed upon a helpless people---infact, Paul Theroux went so far as to suggest :

"It was a theory of mine that former cannibals of Oceania now feasted on Spam because Spam came the nearest to approximating the porky taste of human flesh. `Long pig' as they called a cooked human being in much of Melanesia. It was a fact that the people-eaters of the Pacific had all evolved, or perhaps degenerated, into Spam-eaters. And in the absence of Spam they settled for corned beef, which also had a corpsy flavor."

Stomach infections were everyday things and since water to wash with was scarce, the locals had taken to using the sea as a method of disposal---ugh---enough of that! So, as you can see, this was no tropical paradise and yet, the author captures the spirit of the people in such a great manner you can't help but admire their resilience and ability to make a life from such a barren desolate place.

Troost also has the ability to see the humorous side of any situation and packs the book with one funny anecdote after another.

This book certainly won't contribute to tourism in Kiribati, but it will make you laugh---no ordinary laugh, but one of those big belly laughs, as you read it!

One final note, the book is quite unlike its title suggests; the only allusion to sex in the book is when the author talks about copulation patterns of the stray mangie dogs on the island, or atleast that is the only sex I remember reading!