The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

Why I Read It: I really enjoyed Troost’s book Lost on Planet China.

Where I Got It: Library Web.

Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in life on the Pacific Islands and the minor, yet humorous, cultural clashes that a foreigner can experience.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2007)

Length: 8 hours 35 minutes

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) was an unknown place to me before I listened to this book. The author, J. Maarten Troost, and his fiance Sylvia, were both looking for jobs after graduation and she landed one on Tarawa in the island nation of Kiribati, way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (essentially in the middle of nowhere). Just getting there was an adventure, with pigs on the runway and museum-quality airplanes.

Once there, the culture shock hits on so many fronts. Kiribati is equatorial – meaning there are not seasons as the North American or European experiences them. It is always hot and there is never any need for sweaters, much to the chagrin of the author. Additionally, the island is an atoll, forged out of coral. It is not a tourist’s idea of a lush, verdant, tropical Pacific island. No, not at all. In fact, the island suffers long periods of drought, which is harsh since rain water provides much of the drinking water for the island. Take all this and throw in lack of universal electricity and sanitation, plus intermittent shipments, news, and mail from anywhere else, and you end up doing a lot of swimming, eating a lot of coconuts and fish, and learning to wash your hair with only a cup of water twice a week.

While the beginning of the book lagged a bit for me, starting off in North America with Troost dodging a financial responsibility of finding a job, I thoroughly enjoyed the other 4/5ths  of the book set in Kiribati. The author’s honest portrayal of the islanders in all their humor and endurance of island living was well rounded. I especially enjoyed the author trying to see things through Kiribati eyes – how insane or rude or ignorant are the foreigners? The chapter dealing with the island dogs – how they are seen more of as a nuisance and possible food source – was a bit hard because of my cultural background, but was explained well by the author. Over all, this book is laced with humor and honesty of the author’s experience of his time in Kiribati.

Simon Vance, one of my favorite narrators, gave this book that additional quirked eyebrow here, a chuckle there. His voice is so expressive and his performance of this book does not disappoint.

What I Liked: I love watching cultures play bumper cars in micro and this book is a good example of that; many of Sylvia’s remarks had me laughing; the author’s honesty of various fears and how those change by the end of the book.

What I Disliked: The book started with the author bored with what few job options were open to him after school, so he simply didn’t work and this annoyed me because it gave me the impression that he wanted to play but not be financially responsible (thankfully, it was a minor part of the book).

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