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The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  20,122 ratings  ·  2,173 reviews
At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 8th 2004 by Broadway Books (first published June 8th 2003)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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This book is like a sandwich. The first piece of dry bread is Troost smirkingly telling us that he is just too good, clever and unique to have to actually work and pay bills, like the rest of us. In the final, dry chapter he tells us just how superior he feels to the idiots who over-pay and over-respect him for his newly acquired job that he knows nothing at all about. He wants to return to the life of a house-husband on a tropical island, supported by his wife while he floats in the blue waters ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
”There is no place on Earth where color has been rendered with such intense depth, from the first light of dawn illuminating a green coconut frond to the last ray of sunset, when the sky is reddened to biblical proportions. And the blue...have you seen just how blue blue can get in the equatorial Pacific? In comparison, Picasso’s blue period seems decidedly ash-gray.”

”There is no place on Earth where color has been rendered with such intense depth, from the first light of dawn illuminating a green coconut frond to the last ray of sunset, when the sky is reddened to biblical proportions. And the blue...have you seen just how blue blue can get in the equatorial Pacific? In comparison, Picasso’s blue period seems decidedly ash-gray.”

 photo Portrait-of-Angel-Fernandez-de-Soto-1903-Picasso-Portrait-Paintings_zps23516c63.jpg
That look on Angel Fernandez de Soto for some reason reminds me of Maarten

When Maarten Troost’s girlfriend Sylvia comes home and asks him if he wants to move to a remote Pacific island it took him about three seconds to take stock of his life, and realize this was the best offer he’d ever had. They pack, mostly the wrong things, and before you can say Robinson Crusoe find themselves on the island of Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati.

Now there are few issues you may have with Troost. First this title, though catchy and even giggle worthy, has nothing to do with the book. We do not meet cannibals in this book nor do we learn about cannibals in this book, and even more disappointing we don’t get an “insiders” look at the sex lives of such beastly people. So those of you, hopefully there are not many, who are looking for some information on a lifestyle revolving around the consumption of LONG PIG this is not the book for you. Although I’m sure Troost, his editor, and his publisher may have had a few belly laughs over this bit of tongue in cheek fraud.

Second, for me this concept would have been a bit more impressive if Troost is escaping the rigorous of a working life. If he had been slogging away at some dead end corporate job, like many of the rest of us, and had chucked it all for the back to nature, finding himself, adventure. He is more than a little smug about his life, pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life which is code to me for “I’m living off someone else”. My stiff-neck over this issue dissolved as I found myself chuckling frequently, maybe somewhat maliciously so, over his hapless adventures.

Third towards the end of the book Maarten is hired as a consultant for the World Bank. He is ludicrously overpaid and spends many pages talking about how idiotic these people were for hiring him. (I couldn’t disagree with him.) I could feel that stiff-neck coming back. He bragged about the elevated lifestyle that he and his now wife Sylvia were enjoying while thumbing his nose at his employers for giving it to him. It sounded to me like he could have helped a lot of people in need if he had taken the job more seriously; and maybe he did, and this is all just him building up this persona of himself as a ne’er-do-well.

Maybe I just need my neck rubbed by a lovely polynesian woman.

Troost can wax nostalgic about all the blues and the greens, but there are also absolutely disgusting eyesores in paradise. They take a walk on the small atoll of Majuro which is North of the island of Tarawa.

”There is a filthy fringe of beach that recedes into soppy mud before disappearing into a lifeless lagoon. On the ocean side of the atoll there is a gray and barren reef shelf stained with what from a distance look like large, whitish-brownish polyps that on closer inspection turn out to be used diapers, resting there under the high sun while awaiting an outgoing tide.”


Once Maarten and Sylvia settle into Tarawa there are some fundamental problems that generally people living in civilization don’t have to deal with on a daily basis. The island has been in a drought and it isn’t long before they run out of water. Their main diet is fish, and given the nature of fish to decompose even quicker in this climate, food has to be procured every day. So Maarten instead of lazing around in a hammock all day long finds himself pedaling his bike furiously about the island trying to keep the two of them in food and water. ( I rather enjoyed reading about Maarten having to pull his own weight in this regard.) Fish is supplemented every so often by a ship from Australia offloading all the dented cans and conceptually unappealing food that the population of Australia refused to eat.


It doesn’t take long before those dented cans start to look like gourmet food to Maarten.

They have Peeping Tom issues, some of whom carry rather wicked looking machetes. The lovely; and of course, exotically caucasian visage of Sylvia was of endless fascination to the Kiribati male population. They were quite content to sit outside her window and watch her... read. Flattering, I’m sure, for about thirty seconds, and then progressively creepier as the minutes tick by.

The biggest problem that Maarten faced was one that followed him everywhere...the ceaseless sweating.

”I could either melt into an oozing puddle, drop by drop--a slow, torturous death, for certain--or I could ease my suffering with a swim in the world’s largest backyard pool, thereby risking life and limb to the schools of sharks that were, and I sensed this strongly, circling at reef’s edge, awaiting a meal featuring the other-other white meat.”

Is it wrong to root for the sharks?

Little does Maarten know there are LARGER, more TREACHEROUS things in the water.

”And then I saw what confronted me. It rested directly between myself and shore. It was massive. I had never seen anything like it. I sensed its power. I became very, very frightened.

It was an enormous brown bottom.

The possessor, a giant of a man, was squatting in the shadows, holding on to a ledge of coral rock. He emitted. He emitted some more. He was like a stricken oil tanker, oozing brown sludge. When he was done, he wiped himself with sticks. Not leaves. Sticks. Small branches. Twigs.

And then they were coming my way. Riding the ebbing tide., the sticks homed in on me. I became the North Star for shit-encrusted sticks. Whichever way I moved, and I was moving very quickly these sticks seemed to follow. They were closing in. I began to curse. In Dutch. This only happens when something primal is stirred.


His curse word makes more sense to me if you replace the P with a G, but I’m not a Dutch speaker. Okay so I laughed again the whole time I was typing this quote into this review maybe because I feel our hero, Maarten, could use some “crap” thrown his way.

Troost does give us some background on how the 19th century slave trade impacted the Kiribati. The men were first considered most valuable to work on plantations all over the Pacific, but soon the beautiful young women were sought after even more than the men for purposes that does not require much imagination to figure out. After laws were passed, and were beginning to be enforced the same type of men as the slavers came around inducing men and women to leave the islands for very low pay. This period of time is called the Pacific Labor Trade. Over 70% of the people living on these islands left for what they hoped was a better. Most never returned and not because they found wealth and comfort working for white men.

We meet a cast of colorful characters, of which, my favorite was Half Dead Fred. After living on the island of the Long Knives for nineteen years past the day his visa expired, the government, inexplicably, decides that it is time to enforce his removal from their country. He had numerous wives and a profitable business. The prospect of being dropped back into the middle of American culture is frankly terrifying to him.

”Half-Dead Fred had earned his moniker. He was so wasted in appearance that in comparison a cadaver would seem plump and rosy-cheeked. Tall and gangly with a long salt-and-pepper beard, Half-Dead Fred looked much as I imagined Robinson Crusoe would look had Robinson Crusoe been marooned for a few years longer. He wore a pair of shorts that anywhere else would have long been discarded or put to use as rags.”

Okay, so admittedly, I had issues with Troost. The only reason he bobbed back up on my radar is because he recently released a travel book which has something to do with Robert Louis Stevenson. So far the reviews of Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story are not encouraging. Again the title seems to have little to do with the subject matter of the book. His writing style is engaging and as I mentioned earlier he did make me chuckle more than once. This is a *** star book with a bump to ***½ for entertainment value.
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone, except folks in Kiribati whom I worry might not think it so funny
Having lived in the exact same equatorial Pacific nation at the exact same time as the author, I feel an unprecedented connection to this book. I loved it and was a little bit bothered by it at the same time. Mostly I cracked up laughing the whole time, as if it was a book of inside jokes between the author and me, as he described the exact things that I experienced there: everything from the toilet with a unique ocean view on the Martha to Kiribati bureacracy. The part of me that loves Kiribati ...more
Jason Koivu
Sep 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who want to know what it's like to live on a modern "urbanized" Pacific island
Recommended to Jason by: the damn dirty lie of a title
Shelves: humor
That right there my friends is a dangerous title. Why? Because it's misleading. Let me explain...

Go to Youtube, find a video with a hyperbolic title - one that promises the BEST, MOST EXCITING, FUNNIEST of whatever the content is - watch it and if it doesn't live up to the billing see what the viewers say about it in the comment section and check out the ratio of "likes" and "dislikes". A few samplings of that will clearly and quickly display why a misleading title is a bad idea. ...more
First of all, this is a very misleading title. There were no sexytimes or people eating.

If you ask people what they enjoy doing, what they love, what's necessary, many will list "travel." But what does that mean? Flying somewhere with an itinerary to spend a few nights in a 5 star hotel with continental breakfast? Living out of a backpack and wearing through your shoes? It's such a blobby answer, "travel."

There was a brief period where I had cable and in that brief period
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Burdened with student loans and crushing credit card debt, the author decides to run away from responsibility escape with his ladylove to Tarawa, a tiny South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati.


Troost's visions of a lush tropical paradise are soon swallowed by the harsh reality of beaches studded with feces (human), and a diet consisting of boiled (occasionally toxic) fish. And beer. (Thank God for the beer!)

To picture Kiribati, imagine that the continental U.S. were to conveniently disappear leaving only Babeer!)
Apr 17, 2009 rated it did not like it
To Mr.Troost,
I learned that you are a liar and a disgraceful man, and my opinion about you lay on the beaches of Tarawa. You wrote about my culture, my people and my island I dearly love so you can be famous and rich!!! The title is a scheme and a trick to get people's attention so they can buy your book. The book was given to me because I refused to buy it. I was on the island in 1997 and I didn't remember the LaMacarena and the beer crisis. You got a sick mind. Temawa (rest her soul)was
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I think it is important to separate the subject matter of a book from the book itself. Kiribati? Fascinating. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific? Not good. The research was interesting. The factoids were interesting. But the author comes across as a complete tool. I would have been far more interested in hearing about his girlfriend's experience in the Republic of Kiribati, since she was actually working with people and doing things, unlike J. Maarten.

It isn't a funny book, al
Feb 12, 2016 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" because I alternated between many opinions about this text as I was reading it. It had been on my "too read" list for years, and now having read it I am not sure it deserved its spot.
The first 50 pages or so of this book are irritating beyond belief because the author, J. Maarten Troost, has a pedantic and pseudo intellectual vibe going that comes across as the writer being smarmy and cute. It does not endear him to his reader, and t
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Anyone waiting for a new Bill Bryson work
Shelves: non-fiction
False Advertisement. Defined (loosely) as misrepresenting a product in such a fashion as to entice the buyer to make a purchase "sight unseen". Alternatively, this work stands in nicely.

J. Marten Troost goes out to the middle of "No Where", and there he finds something so trope that he absolutely must write a novel about it. But first, he'll describe his failings to write a novel. In his novel. A non-fiction account of his inability to write fiction. At least I can hope he lies poorl
I enjoyed reading about the author's 2 years on Tarawa, one of the Kiribati islands. It was a fast and funny read, which mixed the author's experiences with some history about the islands. What I particularly liked was that my feelings about the place changed with those of the author: at first it seemed like a hellish place, but in the end I found I really cared for the island and its people, and would have loved to read some more. I plan to read more travelogues by Maarten J. Troost.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
2.5 stars

Martin Troost’s life wasn’t going much of anywhere, so he lucked out when his girlfriend got a job in the remote Pacific island nation of Kiribati, where he spent his time learning to surf, drinking with other expats, and trying to write a novel. He never succeeded – from the superficial depictions of everyone else in this book, I suspect character development was a problem – but their two-year stint on the island of Tarawa provided fodder for this book, about the difficulti
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Funny, interesting, and relaxing. Edit: forgot to mention, the chapter on the island's dogs is not funny, interesting, or relaxing; if, like me, you hate descriptions of mistreated animals, skip it. Also, the book's goodreads' synopsis is somewhat misleading; the book's author struggles without the niceties of western civilization, but he also comes to appreciate both the culture of the island and the double-edged sword of industrial society. Also, the book loses some of its energy about halfway ...more
Rounded up 3.5 stars.

KIRR-E-BAS, the "ti" sound in I-Kiribati is always an "s" sound. Gonna learn you today.

As part of my ongoing read around the world project, this title was not my first choice - a white man gallivanting amongst the natives on remote island nation? Sounds like a problematic disaster waiting to be read. Unfortunately, I can only read English and Kiribati itself hasn't produced much in the way of accessible literature for people as limited as I am. So, with Tr
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I get a kick out of this guy. I can't remember which one I liked better, this one or Getting Stoned with Savages. They're not always as funny as I expected, but I learned a lot about Pacific island people and customs. I thought this was particularly interesting:

"In the 'bubuti' system, someone can walk up to you and say "I bubuti you for your flipflops,' and without a peep of complaint you are obliged to hand over your flipflops. The following day, you can go up to the guy who is now wearing your flipf
Apr 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
The author of this book was kind of a douche. So what do I do? Pick up more of his stuff! Looking forward to it (sort of). But I liked the topic a lot. Guy and his gal are recent college grads and guy has no idea what to do, so he follows his gal to the end of the world where she gets a job for a year or two on an atoll in the Pacific. One thing I liked about this book, is the authors total honesty. He has dreams of what it will be like and it so doesn't live up to them. Another thing I liked, i ...more
Bailey Jane
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: travelers, adults, college, men, women
Recommended to Bailey Jane by: I bought it randomly!
J. Maarten Troost has already turned into one of my favorite authors although this is the first I've read of his work. His writing is intelligently witty, dry, and sarcastic. Some chapters of this book are slower than others, but are necessary for the reader to fully understand why the I-Kiribati people behave in the ways they do or maintain their ways of life. I began reading this book around the same time I moved to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, and the hilarious pickles in which the au ...more
Mar 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs
If I could give this book another half star, I would. It's an entertaining & thoughtful look at the life of an American on the Pacific island of Kiribati.

I guess I am at a point in my life where I can say with a certain confidence that I will never visit Kiribati myself. So, in the way that all travel writing tends to allow one to vicariously experience a place, this book satisfies. But there is a cynical, somewhat smug superiority in the way that island living is portrayed.

Mar 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Misadventure-sympathetics / Those appreciative of Off the Beaten Tracks
Perhaps I'll rewrite this review, but for now,... this book is an easy read. It's about a couple, independent in their ideals and beliefs, who move to Kiribati in the Pacific for a 2 year stint for international development efforts. The guy (author) goes through wonderful details of the people, the climate, culture, and societal oddities, and oooooooohhhhh so much more.

I couldn't put it down. I must say (and I am definitely easily enthusiastic about new places to travel and experience) I never
Jessica Jeffers
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
I read this because my friends back in PA decided they wanted to give a book club a shot and I knew I'd be visiting the weekend that they wanted to hold their discussion. So here you have it: the first installment in the (Un)Official Chestnut Hill Gang Book Club.

Maarten Troost and his girlfriend (wife-to-be, really) graduate with advanced degrees in international studies, focusing on foreign aid to developing nations. The job hunt lands Sylvia an offer to work on the tiny Pacific island nation
Aug 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel-adventure
This is a hard book to rate. There were many times while reading this book that I laughed out loud and thought the author a very funny guy with a very funny sense of humor. There were other times that I felt uncomfortable reading his descriptions of the islands and their people. It felt disparaging at times, culturally insensitive. In the end though, before leaving the island, I feel Iike he gained a respect and love for the island and the people. Ok, maybe not love, but a kinder feeling and res ...more
Books Ring Mah Bell
Oct 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
A fantastic and fun read, one that cured me of ever wanting to live on a remote island in the tropics. Here's how Troost saved me:
1. reiterates throughout the book that it is very hot. VERY VERY hot. While he does this in an entertaining way, one can almost feel (and smell) the humid discomfort.
2. He describes the lack of variety of food. Seafood up the wazoo, and it's not exactly quality stuff. However, dog, if prepared properly is "kang kang". (tasty!!!!!!!!)
3. He tells me of
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
A very amusing literary journey to the island nation of Kiribati (pronounced "Kee-i-bash"), which most people have never heard of, which isn't even a member of the UN. I read Troost's book about Fiji and Vanuatu first and I'm pleased to say I liked this book almost as much. I wish he had written more about his girlfriend Sylvia's job promoting nutrition and sustainable living, though. Troost himself wasn't working, just trying to write a novel and generally idling. He only wrote a few details ab ...more
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
I'm not sure whether he was trying to be sarcastic or ironic or both, but a great bit of this book stopped short of either and just came across as bitchy. (Long enough sentence?) Anyway, the ending was nice but he bitched about the island so much that I'm not sure I even want to visit Hawaii. Wait, that's nuts, Hawaii is better than Tarawa. Right? Guess I'll have to grab my swimsuit and find out. Oh, the sacrifices I make. *sigh*
Kan Bhalla
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travels-2018
To be fair, the title of the book has got absolutely nothing to do with the actual content, not even an iota. Most probably, its a cheap marketing gimmick.
However, if this gets you to pick this up, so be it! Its totally worth it. Its a super fun account of Maarten spending two years (yes, really!) on a tiny tiny island nation that is cut off from the rest of the world like no other.
Maarten tells you point blank how 90% of the stuff you take for granted like food, water, housing, electricity et
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
"Get your head out of your ass!" were the words I wanted to yell at J. Maarten Troost after less than 15 minutes. And pretty much until the very last page. Because "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" isn't really a book about Kiribati - it's about J. Maarten Troost's life in Kiribati. No, wait, scratch that. It's about J. Maarten Troost. Period.

On less than 300 pages he tells us all about himself and how he is such a special snowflake. Of course, I have no idea whether it's simply what he's like or if
Travelling is something that always brings out the very worst in me. Simply getting a bus to somewhere unfamiliar in my hometown can set off a frenzy of anxiety that can ruin not only my day but those of everyone I come into contact with, so you can probably imagine the nightmare I can make of travelling to a different country. Add in that I’m also someone who needs frequent medical interventions and it becomes blindingly obvious that the fantasy of living on a desert island will always remain j ...more
T.H. Waters
May 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Dang. This book really bummed me out. It's one of the few that have come my way which I wish I wouldn't have read. It's billed as a humorous book about a dude who lived on a tiny island near the equator for a few years. Sure, it starts out funny enough. I did laugh during the descriptions about the author's mishap when a turd was relentlessly tracking him in the water during an afternoon ocean dip and again at his inescapable battle with the ubiquitous La Macarena song that incessantly blared fr ...more
Holly (The Grimdragon)
2.5 Stars~

In which I, the reader, persevere through the first few self-absorbed chapters & end up not entirely wanting to throw the book across the room.

This is about Maarten, who spent two years in the equatorial Pacific with his partner Sylvia -- at the end of the world.

Maarten is expecting an island paradise, but is instead met with fecal matter; bugs; a beer shortage; blistering heat; drought; eating dogs; writer's block & La Macarena!

I have always been fas/>
In ...more
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1970-present, prose
Not about cannibals at all, and featuring very little about anyone's sex life, The Sex Lives of Cannibals is not a book to judge by its cover. But I guess nobody would buy a book called Living on Kiribati or something. Except me. Because that's how I ended up reading this. An evening that somehow developed into reading endless wiki articles about random Pacific islands nobody's heard of led me to discover the nation of Kiribati, which I had genuinely no idea existed at all. And learning about this book. Anyway, ...more
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Jan Maarten Troost (known professionally as J. Maarten Troost) (born 1969 in The Netherlands) is a Dutch-American travel writer and essayist.

J. Maarten Troost is the author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific. His essays have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post, and the Prague Post. He spent two years in Kiribati in the equatorial Pacific a
“Personally I regard idling as a virtue, but civilized society holds otherwise.” 29 likes
“Like many air travelers, I am aware that airplanes fly aided by capricious fairies and invisible strings.” 29 likes
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