With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost established himself as one of the most engaging and original travel writers around. Getting Stoned with Savages again reveals his wry wit and infectious joy of discovery in a side-splittingly funny account of life in the farthest reaches of the world. After two grueling years on the island of Tarawa, battling feral dogs, machete-wielding neighbors, and a lack of beer on a daily basis, Maarten Troost was in no hurry to return to the South Pacific. But as time went on, he realized he felt remarkably out of place among the trappings of twenty-first-century America. When he found himself holding down a job--one that might possibly lead to a career--he knew it was time for him and his wife, Sylvia, to repack their bags and set off for parts unknown.
Getting Stoned with Savages tells the hilarious story of Troost's time on Vanuatu--a rugged cluster of islands where the natives gorge themselves on kava and are still known to "eat the man." Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles against typhoons, earthquakes, and giant centipedes and soon finds himself swept up in the laid-back, clothing-optional lifestyle of the islanders. When Sylvia gets pregnant, they decamp for slightly-more-civilized Fiji, a fallen paradise where the local chiefs can be found watching rugby in the house next door. And as they contend with new parenthood in a country rife with prostitutes and government coups, their son begins to take quite naturally to island living--in complete contrast to his dad.
Using a format similar to that of his previous work, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Troost creates another comical and touching travel memoir. Troost and his wife, Sylvia, move from busy Washington, D.C., to Vanuatu, a nation made up of 83 islands in the South Pacific. As Sylvia works for a regional nonprofit, Troost immerses himself in the islands' culture, an odd mix of the islanders' thousand-year-old "kastoms" along with imperialist British and French influences. This really means that Troost gets to live in a nice house while he gets drunk on kava; dodges "a long inferno of magma and a cascade of lava bombs" at the "world's most accessible volcano"; and checks out the "calcified" leftovers from one of Vanuatu's not-so-ancient traditions, cannibalism. At the end of the book, the couple move to Fiji so that Sylvia will have state-of-the-art medical care when she gives birth to their first baby. While modern-day Fiji provides little fodder for Troost's comic sensibilities, the birth of his son enables him to share some deeper thoughts and decide it is "time to stop looking for paradise." A funny travelogue with a sentimental heart, Troost's latest work genuinely captures the search for paradise as well as the need for home. (June)
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June 13, 2006
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Excerpt from Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost
In which the author, much to his surprise, finds himself holding down a job, a real job that could possibly lead to a career, which causes him considerable distress as he envisions his world reduced to swirling acronyms, whereupon his beguiling wife offers him another way, an escape, an alternate road, and together they decide to move to the distant islands of the South Pacific.
I have been called many things in my life, but if there has been but one constant, one barb, one arrow flung my way time after time, it is the accusation that I am, in essence, nothing more than an escapist. Apparently this is bad, suspect, possibly even un-American. Mention to someone that, all things being equal, you'd really rather be on an island in the South Pacific, and they'll look at you quizzically, ponder the madness of the notion for a moment, and say: "But that's just escapism. Now would you kindly finish stocking the paper clips so we have time to rearrange the Hi-Liter markers? We need to make sure they're color-coordinated."
I'm not sure where this tendency came from. Escapism, we are led to believe, is evidence of a deficiency in character, a certain failure of temperament, and like so many -isms, it is to be strenuously avoided. How do you expect to get ahead? people ask. But the question altogether misses the point. The escapist doesn't want to get ahead. He simply wants to get away. I understand this, for I am an unapologetic escapist. Once before, I had abandoned the life I knew in Washington, D.C., escaping the urgent din of the continental world for a distant atoll in the equatorial Pacific. I lived there for two years, never once looking at a clock, marveling at what a strange turn my life had taken. I may have heat rash, I thought back then, and I might be hosting eight different kinds of parasites, but at least I'm not some office drone. I had escaped, I thought mirthfully as I tended to my septic infections. And then, suddenly, my life took another dramatic U-turn, and I once again found myself back in Washington, where every morning I was confronted by a debilitating decision: What tie to wear?
The dissonance was overwhelming. One day, I found myself pressed inside the Washington Metro, soaked through from a November rain, palpitating slightly as I realized I had an 8 a.m. meeting and it was presently 8:17 a.m., and just like that it occurred to me that six months earlier I could be found paddling an outrigger canoe across the sun-dappled waters of a lagoon in the South Pacific. This had been happening for some time, this juxtaposition of my former life upon my present one, and the contrast never failed to leave me twitching in bafflement. How had this happened? Huddled on the subway, I lingered on the image for a moment, far away, envisioning the canopy of palm trees swaying in the near distance, the urgent leap of a flying fish, the fishermen in sailing canoes returning with their catch, the brilliant, shimmering colors offered by a setting sun, until my reverie came to an abrupt end as the subway doors opened and I was swept into the tumult of the rush-hour commute. It was a disconcerting sensation. Blue, blue water, I thought in vain as I was shepherded onto an escalator crowded with pasty-faced suits like myself, dejected already. I tried imagining swaying palm trees as I scurried through the rain toward my office at the World Bank, flashing the color-coded ID card I kept tethered to my belt. Inside, I tried conjuring stress-free tropical living once I found on my chair a dreaded note from my boss: PLEASE SEE ME. 7:45 a.m. But the image was gone. Poof.
How had this happened? I wondered again.