‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’ is a travelogue written by J. Maarten Troost. It recounts the time he and his girlfriend spent living and working on the Tarawa atoll in the Republic of Kiribati.
At the age of 26, Maarten is a proud holder of a useless graduate degree who excels at hopping from one temporary job to another. His life is becoming dangerously stagnant, so when his girlfriend, Sylvia, is offered a position of country director for the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific in Kiribati, he is more than happy to pack his bags and move to this romantic, tropical paradise at the end of the world.
Soon upon their arrival, Maarten and Sylvia discover that Kiribati is not exactly what they thought it would be. Tropical, yes! At the end of the world, absolutely! But paradise, no way! The beaches are polluted, freshwater supply is deficient, gourmet food is non-existent, and recreational options are limited. What’s worse, the only music that can be heard on the island are the not-so-sweet sounds of ‘La Macarena’.
Yet, after two years of assimilation, Maarten and Sylvia are reluctant to go home. It turns out that life in Kiribati is just easier, simpler, and a little bit happier than anywhere else on the globe.
When it comes to travel writing, J. Maarten Troost is a natural. His travelogue is one of the finest examples of the genre; it’s a book so engaging, you simply don’t want it to end.
What is most striking about this memoir is the author’s sense of humour: sharp, witty, sometimes a little warped. You can sense, almost from the very first page, that all the stories were written to amuse readers and give them a bit of enjoyment. And it seems that everything – sanitation, waste management, or the futile attempts to get a subscription to ‘The New Yorker’ – can be described with a certain dose of jocularity. Troost himself defined his writings as ‘not too serious, not too stupid’. This short line is indeed a very accurate summary of this title.
Not too serious, you already know why. But not too stupid? Well, somewhere in between the humour, Troost managed to bring up a few important subjects, such as Kiribati’s economic and political situation, ongoing problems, and biggest threats. Several chapters focus on local history, providing interesting insights into the islands’ forgotten past. What’s impressive and especially worth noting here is that all the weighty issues are tackled with surprising lightness – you learn about them without even realizing it.
The narrative is coherent and well-organized, which makes the book a pleasure to read. And despite the fact that the pace is rather slow (Kiribati time, eh?), it’s quite impossible to get bored with this story. It’s captivating and revealing; it’s as fascinating as only life in Pasifika can be.
The title is misleading – the memoir is neither about sex, nor about cannibals. But still…it’s a fantastic piece of travel literature. If you need a ray of light in your life, give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.