I have no idea why it has taken me so long to read this book. I loved Troost’s first quirky travel tome, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, which saw him and his then-girlfriend Sylvia spend two years on the small island of Kiribati, coming hilariously to grips with a whole new way of life and becoming one of the locals. Why, then, has their time in Vanuatu and Fiji lain unread so long on my shelf? Well, no, that’s not true. Not unread. Partially read. I got a few chapters in, I picked it up to read more multiple times, but then just kept… not getting very far.
I even read Troost’s later travel book, 2008’s Lost on Planet China, which is excellent and also the only travel narrative I have ever read that has made me not want to go to a place, when I stumbled across it several years ago, but still, despite its reminder of how good a writer he is, and despite this earlier book glaring at me almost daily from the “started, need to complete” stack of books next to my bed (we all have those, right?), and coming away with me on several trips both interstate and international, I kept only inching forward in the book, a couple of pages here, maybe a whole chapter there, for YEARS.
Today, I decided to go back to the beginning, taking out the bookmark from page 57 (57! In nine years!) and reading it straight through in one sitting.
Getting Stoned with Savages is a vastly enjoyable memoir. It is filled with Troost’s singular humorous fatalism, a kind of “eh, the world is crazy, what are you gonna do?” amusement at all that is going on around him, as well as showcasing his natural charm and pleasing self-awareness. When Troost talks of “getting stoned” he is talking about his obsession with kava, the naturally occurring stimulant popular in the islands to which Sylvia’s aid work has taken them. The passages in which he describes his gradual dependence on the stuff are subtle but stark; the parts of the book where he talks to locals on both Vanuatu and Fiji, explores their complex and colonialized histories — the cargo cults of Vanuatu are particularly fascinating — as well as going int depth about some of the more opaque vagaries of custom and society on the two island nations is both informative and entertaining, as the best travel writing should be.
(The part where he is writing a book in here, though… he’s writing his book before this one, The Sex Lives of Cannibals. That hurts my head a little, in a meta, causality kind of way.)
So why did it take me so long to read this book? Why did I stop and start so much? Why did it take an act of will to actually complete it? There is no earthly reason for this in its contents, which are wry, erudite and at times even quite exhilarating, so I can only assume that the reason was me. The more I consider it, I think it’s just that not having finished this book had become a habit with me. Having it constantly by my bed, or as my travel companion, was comforting somehow, as though it were a beloved stuffed toy. I have only realized this now that I have completed it and find myself filled with an unaccountable sadness–which, again, has nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of the book.
It’s like, who even am I, if I am a person who has finished reading Getting Stoned with Savages? I have been in some kind of… of relationship with this book for nine years. And now it feels like this book and I just broke up. Happily for me, I’ve discovered that Troost has released two more books in recent years, 2013’s Headhunters on My Doorstep and 2018’s I Was Told There’d Be Sexbots. So perhaps I can buy those and have an equally problematic, semi-dependent, weirdly clingy attachment to them, as I proceed to not read them for almost a decade.
TBR DAY 4: Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost
GENRE: Travel Narrative
TIME ON THE TBR: Almost 9 years. My “You purchased this item on” notification on the paperback’s Amazon page tells me it was on January 29, 2010.
PURCHASED FROM: See above.
KEEP: Yes, of course.