The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Reading this book made me think a lot, so I'm putting it right in the middle, rating-wise. I did like it, at least parts of it. The beginning started off very slow for me--I'm not a fan of the style where the author or narrator outlines his previous work experiences. It was very boring and slow for me at first. I could have done without the background info. I would assume someone who volunteers to go to a remote Pacific island 'at the end of the world' is adventurous. I really didn't need the first part, which seemed irrelevant to the rest of the story.
Once they left the US, things got more interesting. I loved the descriptions of all the stops along the way, and the islands. It was very sad, though, to hear about all the ways westerners had influenced (mostly for the worse) and exploited both the islands and their inhabitants. Not that this book glorifies the 'noble savage' image either, as it gives glimpses into the subjugating and barbaric treatment of women a few times. However, these parts are quickly glossed over by the author's glib commentary.
At first I liked the witty comments, but they got a bit tiring at times. I can see how people would like this style of narrating travelogues so they don't get boring, but it seemed dismissive of the problems faced by the islanders both male and female. Pointing out how overweight they are and how much they love cheetos seemed more like making fun of them than making what could have been a more insightful observation or a chance for meaningful social commmentary. However, the author's witty comments did keep the book from being morose and just plain depressing, which it might have been without all the distracting cleverness. At times, the author seemed too enamored with his own cleverness, which always irritates me.
The book was well-written, and I did enjoy it and sometimes had a hard time putting it down. I think when I read non-fiction, though, I prefer to read something more meaningful than one person's experiences. I learned a lot about the islands of Kiribati, but I would have liked a more serious book and not a travelogue/memoir type book, and I could have done without the condescending tone of a rich kid talking down to an entire nation because they are Third World and don't have AC. I would have liked to learn more, even if it was depressing. Also, the end of the book seemed unnecessary and slow to me, like the beginning. I guess that's because what I really wanted (and liked) from this book was what I learned about the islands, not about the man writing the book. The only purpose it served was to show the author to be hypocritical and to show that his time in the country taught him nothing but to go home, forget all he'd learned about the corruption and infrastructure problems of foreign aid, and get rich off exploiting the very things he'd complained about on the islands.
I'd recommend this book to adults who like travelogues with witty commentary that don't offer solutions to problems but just make fun of them. And to fans of Island of the Sequined Love Nun.
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