May 13, 2014

Getting Stoned with Savages

by J. Maarten Troost

This one caught my eye because the author's prior book has been lingering on my TBR list. It's a kind of travel memoir, about the time the author and his wife spent in the South Pacific, visiting many islands but living mainly on Vanuatu and Fiji. Mostly humorous stories about often baffling circumstances, with a lot of asides into the history of the islands and their curious culture. Medley of cultures, really. Colonialism still a thing in some areas. How they became accepted by the locals, partaking of narcotic drinks made from potent roots (the author at least; his wife didn't like the stuff and I seriously doubt I would either!) but still occasionally (in spite of previous experience living on the islands) making an unforgivable faux-paus. Lack of amenities, large insects, frightful diseases all duly noted. Quite a number of sought-out adventures: visits to a live volcano, searching for someone who remembers experiencing cannibalism first hand (to answer pressing questions). They survived cyclones and mudslides, but still remained to have their first child on a remote island. In the end decided to return to America.

I found most interesting the slight but significant differences between all the islands in what was permissible or frowned upon. In some places women were allowed to join in certain ceremonies with the men, in other places they never could. In one village, women didn't even share housing with their men- the village had a side for each gender, strictly divided. Some descriptions of island life reminded me acutely of Fatu-Hiva. The largest impression I came away with was how life in the tropics had just as many difficulties and hardships as beauty and blissful moments. It was also sad to read about how in many villages the people would perform their traditional dances or display their lack of attire for tourist money. The parts about the history and political issues, especially the frequent coups, got a bit dull, but could also be amusing. As when he quoted Cook's disparaging description of natives he encountered on Malekula in 1774, followed by the author's own idea of how a native might have described Cook and his crew in turn- not at all flattering (and made me laugh out loud).

I enjoyed this read, but it's not one that's going to stay on my shelf. However, his references to The Sex Lives of Cannibals plus a few reviews of it, make me think I'll like the other book even more. Must look for it at the library sometime.

Rating: 3/5      239 pages, 2006

a few more opinions:
If It Has Words
I Read, I Knit, I Am
The Estella Collective


bermudaonion said...

Sounds like a fun book!

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

The title of this one actually put me off it -- it made it sound like the writer would be exoticizing the people he met on his travels. But your review makes it sound like that isn't at all the case.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- It was a pretty fun read.

Jenny- Nope, not the case at all. Some aspects of the book misled me too- one of the chapter headings - written by the author himself- suggest that he was fooling around with prostitutes (while his pregnant wife was at home!) but actually he was evading their offers in the street, staying out of trouble. That he wrote that suggestive stuff in the chapter heading really annoyed me.