One of my New Year’s Resolutions (the only one, come to think of it) is to read more non-fiction books. I decided to read 12 non-fiction books this year, one per month. In January, I read Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. We shall not speak of the February book.*
This month’s book was Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost. This book was a lot of fun and an easy read–I read the whole thing in an evening. I suppose you would call it a travel memoir even though the author and his wife actually live in Fiji and Vanuatu (an island nation in the South Pacific) for several years.
The author has also written The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific which is a memoir of his two years spent living with his then-girlfriend (no wife) on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. Getting Stoned with Savages takes place after The Sex Lives of Cannibals, but the author mentions that he is writing The Sex Lives of Cannibals while living in Fiji and Vanuatu.
At the beginning of the book, the author and his girlfriend had just moved back to the US from their first experience living on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. The author has a job at the World Bank and is making beaucoup bucks. However, he (strangely, he thinks, because he was miserable on that island) misses living on the island. His life in Washington seems very artificial. So, after some thought, they decide to go back to the South Pacific, except to a less remote location.
The entire book is written from a humorous perspective even when the situation is more a “If we weren’t laughing we’d be crying” sort of thing. He writes a bit about colonialism and his experiences being white in a place where there isn’t even the semblance of equality. He also writes about his exploration of the islands of Vanuatu, his interactions with the native peoples, surviving a cyclone (hurricane) and his encounters foot-long poisonous centipedes. And the joys of kava (which is where the book gets its name).
I sort of vaguely recall hearing about kava before reading this book, but I had the impression it was an innocuous herbal tea. Um, no. Kava, as consumed in the South Pacific, is a narcotic that is drunk for its tranquilizing effects. Instead of having a beer after work, the locals drink kava.
I really enjoyed this book and really have nothing negative to say about it. If you are looking for a book that waxxes philosophical about the rugged harshness of living in the third world, this book ain’t it. But, if you are looking for a casual perspective about living in the third world, you might enjoy this book.
To give you an idea of the tone of the book, here are a couple of the chapter summaries found in the table of contents:
Chapter 3. In which the author is confounded by Port Vila , which is not at all like the South Pacific he has known–he does not, for instance, have to eat fish every day–and after dipping into the past, which strikes him as being uncannily like the present, he cannot help but feel that for the whites in Vila it’s forever 1900.
Chapter 6. In which the author pondrs 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 Maledula, where until recently, within his own lifetime even, they lunched on people.
So, that’s the book for March. I haven’t decided on an April book, yet, but I suspect it may be The Sex Lives of Cannibals.
*Okay, here’s what happened with the February book: it wasn’t fun enough. I liked it but I’m having a hard time reading anything serious that isn’t also fairly humorous. I’ll probably pick it up again after I go to California.