Saturday, June 14, 2008

Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost

Getting Stoned with Savages
J. Maarten Troost
256 pages

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. ~ First sentence, Chapter One, Getting Stoned with Savages ~

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."

While not a good as his first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, I still enjoyed Getting Stoned with Savages. I knew what expect of his writing style this time around. While his witty humor comes through it's a bit more difficult when he's living in more civilized places than an atoll in the South Pacific. He took what material Vanuatu and Fiji offered and applied his unique perspective. The chapter battling the foot-long centipede had me laughing out loud and provided one of the highlights of this book. The chapter on cannibalism offers an interesting take on a subject I'm sure most of us don't give daily thought to. He loves adventure and always makes sure to seek out local culture. He is usually willing to give every thing a try at least once and, maybe go back and back and back, if something appeals to him such as kava. I'm glad I went along for the ride and look forward to China his next destination in his quest to escape. I'm thinking China might not be quite the escape he has in mind with 2 children in tow.


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