Getting Stoned with Savages

How exactly doeSavagess one develop a taste for a gently singed piece of human flesh? Perhaps it tastes different when washed down with a shell of especially bitter kava. To discover the answer to this pressing question and others (how big can a human foot get when bitten by a centipede) you’ve got to throw your shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops into a backpack and venture to the South Pacific archipelagoes of Vanuatu or Fiji. If that jaunt is not in the cards for the foreseeable future, you can pick up J. Maarten Troost’s Getting Stoned with Savages for a recounting of his burgeoning family’s adventures as they resettle into island life.

While serving as a PSA warning against the obviously addictive qualities of kava, an island intoxicant with mysteriously hallucinatory effects, the humorous story is filled with extended vignettes of South Pacific life. Troost is no stranger to island life, having recounted a previous stay on Tarawa before moving back to city life in the United States in his book The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Even so, the transition from Washington D.C. to Vanuatu serves to deromanticize the island life. This is not a journey into the heart of darkness surrounded by hotel bars, nicely tiled swimming pools, and gently swaying palm trees. Rather, it is the reality of muddy roads, shark filled lagoons that slyly beckon the swimmer in, forays into the village kingdoms of various chiefs, and of course, kava enhanced sunset watching.

Troost has an O’Rourkean twist to his humor, bringing his encounters with people and events to life for the reader without the ugly cynicism of so many who long for the hipster travel-food-entertainment-writer label. He is as likely to befriend the locals as he is to find himself making cultural faux paus that build walls (apparently it is in poor taste to hoist your new baby aloft and claim him as your chief, go figure!) The island nations will not be distributing this book as a vacation advertisement but you and I can travel vicariously through it. Oh, and be discerning on Fiji when proposing a date…