‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’ is an account of Mr and Mrs Troost’s sojourn in the Blue Continent. It is a follow-up to the author’s first book, ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’.
After returning from Kiribati and landing himself a job at the World Bank, Maarten leads an ordinary, uneventful, and extremely boring life that doesn’t quite suit him. Surprisingly, he misses the serene islands of the South Seas and dreams of nothing more than trading his ridiculous uniform for a pair of comfortable flip-flops. Luckily for him, his wife Sylvia is offered a position in Vanuatu.
Immediately upon landing in Melanesia, the couple starts to absorb the local culture. The not-so-remote country turns out to be a delightful yet slightly odd mix of British and French influences with an indigenous twist. In between struggling against typhoons and battling giant centipedes, Maarten discovers the ‘muddy nectar of gods’ and – as a writer who might pen a book – goes on a mission to investigate cannibalism. And when he thinks he has found his slice of heaven (finally!), Sylvia announces she is pregnant. The Troosts decide to decamp for just-a bit-more-civilized Fiji.
Let me tell you one thing. If you happen to lay your hands on a book – any book – with J. Maarten Troost’s name on the cover, buy it without thinking, because you can be sure it’s going to be absolutely fantastic. This man is a master storyteller; one of the most engaging and intriguing travel writers of all time.
At first glance the memoir resembles Troost’s previous work about the Pacific. The format of the chapters, the general concept, the writing style are indeed very similar. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that this is actually an entirely different publication.
Although the author doesn’t skimp on humour, this book is definitely not as uproarious as ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals’. There is a plausible explanation for this. As we all know, the very first cross-cultural encounter is always – ok, usually – the funniest. When everything around you is new, unexpected, strange, and so foreign, it’s quite easy to amuse people with anecdotes of your adventures or misunderstandings in an exotic land. But when you become a culture-conscious traveller, for whom that ‘alien world’ doesn’t remain a complete mystery anymore, certain situations and behaviours simply fall into the ‘normal, not necessarily shocking’ category. This is exactly what happened to J. Maarten Troost. Over the years spent in the Pacific, he grew accustomed to this corner of the globe and stopped treating it like a planet from another galaxy.
So yes, Troost may not be hilarious this time, but his travelogue is still a marvelously entertaining piece of literature that doesn’t disappoint. Yet again, his wit and jocular personality shine through every page.
The story itself is thoroughly charming but also quite revealing. The author’s experiences in Vanuatu and Fiji introduce readers to the islands of Melanesia, giving them a chance to discover the fascinating peculiarities of both countries. Troost doesn’t focus on local customs and traditions – kava ceremony is the exception to the rule – but rather concentrates on daily life, which in Pasifika is never mundane (bugs, insects, mudslides, active volcanoes… Pure fun, isn’t it?). He also throws in little snippets concerning the region’s history and its often inglorious past.
Of course, as you would expect, the travelogue is exceptionally well written. Light-hearted in tone, it is characterized by fairly straightforward narrative, lively pace, and vivid but not overwhelming descriptions. It’s clearly visible that Troost matured as a writer. But don’t worry – his frolicsome manner may have disappeared somewhere beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean, but he’s still the same lad.
This candid, often sentimental memoir will make you crave the tropics. You will want to escape to one of those islands and live surrounded by friendly people and giant centipedes. You’ll want to indulge yourself with kava and maybe talk to the natives about cannibalism. You’ll want to enjoy what life has to offer. Well, what can I say… Blame J. Maarten Troost, not me.