Macarena in the South Pacific – “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” by J. Maarten Troost
After finishing grad school, focusing on international relations, Troost drifted from temp job to office job, slacking his way through the world. When his ambitious girlfriend Sylvia got a job running a field office on the remote South Pacific island of Tarawa (in the Republic of Kiribati) he went along for the ride with no idea what he was truly signing up for. He packs sweaters to spend two years on an island located on the equator, if that’s any indication of how out of his element he was.
Troost’s book alternates between enlightening and hilarious. I feel smarter for having read it, yet I was completely amused the whole time. It’s as if Hunter S. Thompson and Seth Rogen had a baby – and that baby was Troost.
Tarawa is a small island (actually, it’s an atoll) populated by a people who are warm and intelligent, yet prone to alcoholism and diabetes. Troost and Sylvia find themselves dealing with stray animals, giant cockroaches, sharks, a scarce water supply, a beer shortage, and a thousand other adventures – including battling that most deadly of all evils, the Macarena.
Troost is self-effacing, ready to admit his stupid moments. Sylvia is a passionate and smart woman who’s easy to like. They’re a lovely couple to focus on, and you truly care about their time on the island. I had no idea that these islands even existed, and now want to read more about them.
Humans are adaptable animals, and these two travelers adapted so much to the South Pacific way of life that when they returned home to Washington, they were miserable. (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying this, as Troost has written a second book about their adventures as they moved to Fiji, with their new baby.)
In between the anecdotes, there’s a lot of history of these small islands presented. Imagine, there are thirty-three islands that make up a republic whose total land mass is only about the size of Baltimore. Wrap your head around that, Chicago folks.
Completely, unexpectedly, and utterly, this book made me smile.
(Thanks to Lindsey at exhibitsmith, who passed me a copy.)