Thursday, February 11, 2010

Getting Stoned with Savages (A Book Review)

I'm slacking. I haven't done a Travel Tip Thursday in a couple of weeks. Here's the next to best thing, traveling to the South Pacific via a book...

J. Marten Troost, Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu (7 hours, 30 minutes)

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This was the first book I’ve read by Troost, but I’m sure it won’t be my last. However, I didn’t actually read it; I listened to the unabridged audio version, twice! Everyone at the gym thinks I’m crazy as I’d break out laughing while working up a sweat on the elliptical machines or while laid out on the bench with weights overhead. The later is not exactly a smart thing to do, but this is a funny book. Having read some reviews of this book, I found many readers saying it’s not as funny as Sex Lives of Cannibals. If that’s the case, Troost’s first book must be really funny.

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Troost starts out his story in Washington, DC, wearing suits and working at the World Bank. As his bank account soars into the “4 digits,“ he begins to long to be back in the South Pacific, where he’d recently spent two years, tagging along behind a girlfriend who had a real job. Troost went there to be a writer, earning $350 during his two years. As one friend questions him, just how did someone who’d earned $350 in two years come to a position of influence at the World Bank, advising entire countries about their finances? In the end, it didn’t work out. Troost is ready to go back to the Islands and the World Bank is happy to assist. His former girlfriend, now his wife, has a position with NGO. The plan is for them to move to Fiji, but political unrest lands them in Vanuatu, a volcanic chain of islands where he finds plenty to get himself into trouble while writing his first book (The Sex Live Cannibals). Vanuatu is a chain of islands with a half-dozen active volcanoes, earth so unstable that one has to be use to silverware dancing across the table, and a shared history of cannibalism and French and English colonialization.

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Packing for the South Pacific, according to Troost, is more a process of subtraction. Out go the suits and ties and long pants and socks. All that‘s left are a few pair of ratty shorts and colorful shirts, sandals and flip-flops. Once on the island, Troost and his wife set out to see the island and end up getting the car of a co-worker stuck. Troost spends his time on the islands exploring and experiencing life. They climb an active volcano, he sets out to meet someone who has “eaten the man” (the last known case of cannibalism occurred on the islands in 1969), experiences the ravages of a cyclone, and explore the corruption of the government. But mostly, Troost discovers his love of Kava, a narcotic drink. He’d had Kava before, in the South Pacific, but unbeknownst to him the Kava in Vanuatu is much more potent and when he drinks two “shells” of them, he finds himself out of commission for a few days.

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After a couple of years on Vanuatu, Troost and his wife decide to have a child. As medical care on Vanuatu is limited, and Fiji is now politically more stable, they decide to move. Furthermore, as Troost muses, being born in Fiji will give his son the opportunity to snowplow down the slopes in a future Winter Olympics, as the only member of Fiji’s ski team. Troost goes ahead of his wife, to find a place to live and finds himself being harassed by transvestites’ prostitutes. He muses that the capital of Fiji, built by the British as their outpost in South Pacific, is the only place in the region to have mostly cloudily skies, a feat only the British could achieve. There, they lose their backyard to a landslide and watch rugby and have a baby boy. Troost explores the difference between the native Fijians (who are laid back) and the gung-ho Indians who were brought to the island as coolies by the British and who run much of the businesses on the island. The book ends after the birth of a son and with Troost becoming more responsible.

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Although the book is humorous, Troost helps his readers learn about the island’s history, culture and politics. Yet, the book is mostly funny and I recommend it for its laughs.

7 comments:

  1. I read about Vanuatu in Michener's Tales of the South Pacific. He made it sound not very pleasant. This one sounds like a great read.

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  2. Since I know a couple of missionaries in New Guinea, who also are stationed on the island of Vanuatu, this book goes on my reading list ...thanks, Sage.

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  3. I still haven't read Sex Lives for Cannibals though I have it on my bookshelf.

    Reading about his first Kava stoning and having his legs go numb had me lying in bed sobbing with laughter while my wife punched me to keep quiet so I wouldn't wake up the little one.

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  4. His books have always caught my eye, but I've not acquired one yet. It seems there was always something I wanted to read first. I shall have to remedy that, I think.

    Cheers.

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  5. Jen, he does talk about Michener

    Sleepy Head, Warning, he's not real fond of missionaries. In his book on China, he mentions that having been at the "ends of the world," there are two things he always finds--Mormon missionaries and Chinese businessmen.

    Ed, the dangers of reading a funny book in bed! I've just started his book on Chinia--it's also funny.

    Randall, I found him very funny--good reading when life is too serious.

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  6. It's been a while since I've read a funny book (The Dirty Girl's Social Club written by a Latina...forget her name). I laughed a lot with Stephen King's On Writing. Believe it or not, he can be funny!

    I will DEFINITELY be looking out for Sex Lives of Cannibals, now that you've mentioned it. The title alone made me laugh!

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  7. Good to blend travel, history AND humor. I've had Kava Kava (not as strong as what this guy had) and enjoyed it. Gotta chew it for it to work and it makes your mouth numb.

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