August 23, 2013

Water, water everywhere

By J. Maarten Troost
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Author J. Maarten Troost spent several years living on a tiny island in the South Seas, an experience he brought to life in The Sex Lives of Cannibals. In the intervening years his family moved several times and he took a long slide into alcoholism, which he blamed in part on living too far from the water. One year sober but miserable, he decides to travel the South Seas again, following a path previously charted by Robert Louis Stevenson. Headhunters on My Doorstep is Troost's account of a time spent trying to get his sea legs, in more ways than one.

The trip starts poorly when the first boat Troost climbs aboard turns out to be a de facto booze cruise. He manages to resist temptation by working out to excess, a practice he keeps up on land, running to the point of near-collapse for miles at a time in toxic heat. And those headhunters in the title? He stays in a village where a recent murder-turned-luncheon had taken place, but notes that the attitude toward cannibalism in the region's history is shrugged off by many. One woman tells him, “You'd think all we did was kill people and eat them every day. We eat fruit and fish too, you know. Eating people was for special occasions, like your holiday. What do you call it? Thanksgiving.”

When Troost gets to Fiji he reads about the island nation of Kiribati, the entirety of which is preparing to evacuate as the rising seas gradually reclaim the landmass. His attempt to speak to someone in the government about the impending disaster is quickly shut down when he discloses the title of his previous book (which was set on a nearby island), one funny moment in the midst of a tragedy we're likely to see more of in years to come.

Throughout the book Troost checks in with Stevenson's account of his own South Seas voyage, and it makes for an interesting counterpoint to the modern-day concerns of islanders, but old fans and new will find themselves most concerned with Troost as he swims with sharks, gets tattooed and throws himself headlong into the adventure of clean living. Headhunters hits surprisingly close to the heart.

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Headhunters on My Doorstep

Headhunters on My Doorstep

By J. Maarten Troost
ISBN 9781592407897

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