Tag Archives: J. Maarten Troost

‘HEADHUNTERS ON MY DOORSTEP: A TRUE TREASURE ISLAND GHOST STORY’ BY J. MAARTEN TROOST

‘Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’ is a memoir penned by a well-known travel writer, J. Maarten Troost. It is his third book on the South Pacific.

HEADHUNTERS ON MY DOORSTEP

Summary

In order to recuperate from a fierce battle with alcoholism, Maarten decides to return to his beloved Oceania – a happy place where life is simpler and problems a little easier to solve. Fascinated by Robert Louis Stevenson’s descriptions of the South Seas, he chooses to retrace the famous Scot’s route through the magnificent islands.

On board the Aranui III cargo ship, he arrives at his first destination. The Marquesas archipelago – the land of cannibals and extreme beauty – leaves Maarten in so much awe that he ends up getting a traditional (and a bit crooked) tattoo from a local (and not yet experienced in inking) teenager. With the imperfect turtle on his arm, he is ready to continue his journey.

He heads further south to Fakarava and then to very French Tahiti, before finally reaching the shores of his adopted home – Kiribati. After discovering that some things have changed and others have not, he leaves the Micronesian country and travels to Tusitala’s land – Samoa.

Review

Another book, another story – the author’s third on the Pacific Islands. But is this Troost at his best? I am not quite sure.

Unlike the author’s previous titles – ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals’ and ‘Getting Stoned with Savages’ – this one is not about the Blue Continent. Well, not exactly, anyway. This is a memoir of a recovering alcoholic who tries (thankfully) to beat his addiction. This is his tale of dealing with and finally embracing those inner demons that sometimes make a person’s life unbearable. But if you expect it to be yet another let-me-tell-you-what-I’ve-been-through kind of a narrative, you will probably be surprised. Or not. This is J. Maarten Troost, after all – sharp, wickedly wry sense of humour is his trademark. So yes, he writes about battling that bad habit of drinking too much wine (beer, rum, vodka perhaps?), but he does it in the most light-hearted way possible. Quite honestly, his thoughts and reflections might give you an (illusory and obviously wrong) idea that alcoholism is a disease only slightly worse than a common cold.

Regaining sobriety theme makes up a sizable portion of the storyline. But where are the headhunters? Where are the ghosts? Did Troost manage to find a place for his much-loved Pacific Islands in this very personal memoir? He did. The countries may not be the main focus of his attention, but they do appear in the book. Following in Robert Louis Stevenson’s footsteps, the author concentrates on giving readers insights into the fascinating cultures he had a chance to encounter during his journey. As a tourist-writer – because this time J. Maarten Troost was just a visitor hopping from the isles of French Polynesia to Kiribati and Samoa – he contrasts the lifestyles of Pacific peoples with his own way of being. And taking into account that most of the places on his route were quite new to him, it’s easy to imagine the in-depth analyses he performs. Honestly, it can’t be described, it must be read.

Praising Troost’s writing style is pointless, really. We all know it’s phenomenal. The man is a master of irony, wit, and self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek humour. A genuinely funny guy you want to ‘hang out’ with. Rarely is he serious, often very flippant. He comments freely on what he observes. And sometimes you get an impression that his mouth – or hand in this case – works faster than his mind. But you don’t care; because when you read Troost, you laugh. You just laugh.

Now, although the author’s style has remained much the same, you can’t help but notice that it’s been slowly evolving. At first glance, ‘Headhunters on My Doorstep’ is a whimsical read. But somewhere beneath the surface there is a meaningful message that resonates emotionally with an audience. Yes, Troost has visibly matured. If you liked the old lad, you may be slightly disappointed with this particular title.

I have to admit, I’m a big Troost fan. I adore everything and anything he creates. And when he writes about Oceania – I am simply in love. Do you yearn to escape to the tropics? If yes, this is your book. Just remember… It has an addition of mind-altering substances.

‘GETTING STONED WITH SAVAGES: A TRIP THROUGH THE ISLANDS OF FIJI AND VANUATU’ BY J. MAARTEN TROOST

‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’ is an account of Mr and Mrs Troost’s sojourn in the Blue Continent. It is a follow-up to the author’s first book, ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’.

GETTING STONED WITH SAVAGES

Summary

After returning from Kiribati and landing himself a job at the World Bank, Maarten leads an ordinary, uneventful, and extremely boring life that doesn’t quite suit him. Surprisingly, he misses the serene islands of the South Seas and dreams of nothing more than trading his ridiculous uniform for a pair of comfortable flip-flops. Luckily for him, his wife Sylvia is offered a position in Vanuatu.

Immediately upon landing in Melanesia, the couple starts to absorb the local culture. The not-so-remote country turns out to be a delightful yet slightly odd mix of British and French influences with an indigenous twist. In between struggling against typhoons and battling giant centipedes, Maarten discovers the ‘muddy nectar of gods’ and – as a writer who might pen a book – goes on a mission to investigate cannibalism. And when he thinks he has found his slice of heaven (finally!), Sylvia announces she is pregnant. The Troosts decide to decamp for just-a bit-more-civilized Fiji.

Review

Let me tell you one thing. If you happen to lay your hands on a book – any book – with J. Maarten Troost’s name on the cover, buy it without thinking, because you can be sure it’s going to be absolutely fantastic. This man is a master storyteller; one of the most engaging and intriguing travel writers of all time.

At first glance the memoir resembles Troost’s previous work about the Pacific. The format of the chapters, the general concept, the writing style are indeed very similar. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that this is actually an entirely different publication.

Although the author doesn’t skimp on humour, this book is definitely not as uproarious as ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals’. There is a plausible explanation for this. As we all know, the very first cross-cultural encounter is always – ok, usually – the funniest. When everything around you is new, unexpected, strange, and so foreign, it’s quite easy to amuse people with anecdotes of your adventures or misunderstandings in an exotic land. But when you become a culture-conscious traveller, for whom that ‘alien world’ doesn’t remain a complete mystery anymore, certain situations and behaviours simply fall into the ‘normal, not necessarily shocking’ category. This is exactly what happened to J. Maarten Troost. Over the years spent in the Pacific, he grew accustomed to this corner of the globe and stopped treating it like a planet from another galaxy.

So yes, Troost may not be hilarious this time, but his travelogue is still a marvelously entertaining piece of literature that doesn’t disappoint. Yet again, his wit and jocular personality shine through every page.

The story itself is thoroughly charming but also quite revealing. The author’s experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji introduce readers to the islands of Melanesia, giving them a chance to discover the fascinating peculiarities of both countries. Troost doesn’t focus on local customs and traditions – kava ceremony is the exception to the rule – but rather concentrates on daily life, which in Pasifika is never mundane (bugs, insects, mudslides, active volcanoes… Pure fun, isn’t it?). He also throws in little snippets concerning the region’s history and its often inglorious past.

Of course, as you would expect, the travelogue is exceptionally well written. Light-hearted in tone, it is characterized by fairly straightforward narrative, lively pace, and vivid but not overwhelming descriptions. It’s clearly visible that Troost matured as a writer. But don’t worry – his frolicsome manner may have disappeared somewhere beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean, but he’s still the same lad.

This candid, often sentimental memoir will make you crave the tropics. You will want to escape to one of those islands and live surrounded by friendly people and giant centipedes. You’ll want to indulge yourself with kava and maybe talk to the natives about cannibalism. You’ll want to enjoy what life has to offer. Well, what can I say… Blame J. Maarten Troost, not me.

‘THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS: ADRIFT IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC’ BY J. MAARTEN TROOST

‘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.

THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS

Summary

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.

Review

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.