Tuesday, August 31, 2010

YOO Book Note: Getting Stoned with Savages

OK, listen up students, and I'll let you in on a secret. If your professor wants you to read a Year of Oceania book for one of your classes this year, pick Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost. It is, in my considered professional opinion, a hoot and a half. I laughed all through it. Troost has got to be one of the most self-deprecatingly witty travel writers around.

In this book, Troost tells about his experiences living on the remote islands of Vanuatu (where cannibalism is, it would seem, a fairly recent memory, and kava--ideally processed through the mastication of prepubescent boys--is the foulest-tasting, absolutely best narcotic social lubricant known to man), and more urban squalor in Fiji. (After reading Troost's narrative, I found myself snickering at the man in front of me at the checkout counter at Target who was buying a massive quantity of Fiji brand bottled water).

Even his (lengthy) chapter titles are hilarious. For example, "Chapter 5, in which the author ponders cannibalism and discovers that he just doesn't get it--not at all, cannot get past the icky factor--and so, left to his own devices by his beguiling wife, he decides to seek enlightenment on the island of Malekula, where until recently, within his own lifetime even, they lunched on people."

or "Chapter 8, in which the author travels to the island of Tanna, where he ascends an active volcano; witnesses the extraordinary Nekowiar ceremony, culminating with the slaughter of two hundred pigs; and meets with villagers deep within the forest who live according to the tenets of kastom, which is another word for naked."

I have to admit, I was a little uncomfortable with the title, as obviously tongue-in-cheek as it was. The progressive in me bristled and was ready to take offense at the colonial term "savages." It is true that Troost shows little regard for political correctness in his writing, but he is far from bigoted against the indigenous people of Oceania. In fact, he is much more at ease drinking kava with the Ni-Vanuatu than hanging around with those of European stock, who tended to have eighteenth- or nineteenth-century attitudes towards the locals. (Troost reserves his sharpest ire for French yacht racers. Boy, there's a bunch of savages Captain Cook would have given a wide berth).

I enjoyed Troost's book so much, I plan to read his previous work The Sex Lives of Cannibals, about his earlier South Pacific experiences living on the island of Tarawa. And lucky me! The library has it through eBrary! Hurrah! So if you have to read two books for The Year of Oceania, there's another option for you.

Take a (virtual) kava break and enjoy the book!

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