Sex Lives of Cannibals Review

TITLE: The Sex Lives of Cannibals
AUTHOR: J. Maarten Troost
GENRE: (Hysterical) Travelogue


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 and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better. The Sex Lives of Cannibals tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish—all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is “La Macarena.” ~ Read more at

Do NOT Read This Book in Public

As much as the title would lead you to believe it, this is not literary porn. It is the most wickedly funny book I’ve read in the four+ decades I’ve been devouring them. And, it couldn’t have come at a more snugly fitting time.

For weeks I’d been plodding through the 10,000+ page Middlemarch with brutal determination. I always (okay, usually) rise to a daunting intellectual challenge…but, NOT in Kauai. So, Middlemarch remains on my nightstand waiting patiently for my return to the mainland.

I couldn’t have picked a more fitting book to read than The Sex Lives of Cannibals – Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific. However, I must warn you that this is not an ideal book to read in public. First, there’s that titillating title. You’ll notice occasional furtive glances, sly grins, or raised eyebrows much more often than usual. But, for me, it was more about the uncontrollable snorts that I involuntarily emitted while reading.

What’s so hysterical? Every one of the 272 pages where Troost shares his light-hearted observations and crazy experiences while living at the “edge of the world” for two years. The “edge” is the very likely unheard of Republic of Kiribati [pronounced “Kir-ee-bas”…”on account of the missionaries being stingy with the letters they used to transcribe the local language”] on the teensy mostly likely unheard of atoll of Tarawa (it’s not even big enough to achieve “island” status)…somewhere in the middle of the South Pacific.

Troost and his girlfriend move to “possibly the Worst Place on Earth” in search of an exotic life experience and they most definitely get it – “…stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish – all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is La Macarena.” Just try not to laugh while reading this excerpt about Tarawa’s mythological beginning…

“A long time ago, Tarawa was brought forth by Nareau the Creator. Nareau the Creator was a spider and he looked upon his work and saw that it was good. Perhaps because he was a spider. Nareau the Creator then flung grains of Tarawa to the wind and from these grains other islands were born and together these islands were called Tungaru. He created demigods and people and they procreated but the demigod gene seems to have died out, and so very soon there were just people. He created distant lands and sent Nareau the Wise to tend to the land of white-skinned spirits, the I-Matang world, and Nareau the Cunning to oversee the land of black-skinned spirits. Their intermingling was not advised. I sometimes wish that Nareau had been a little more expansive in his ambitions. As the primordial source of life Tarawa is a bit modest. Which grain was it that led to the Euroasian landmass? Why couldn’t we have kept that one, I wondered. How about the Bora Bora grain? Couldn’t Nareau at least have left a grain or two that could have morphed into hills, mountains even, something to break the monotony of a low island? As I cycled up and down the atoll on a thirdhand mountain bike that would never see a mountain, or a hill, or even a rise requiring a gear change, I realized that Nareau, unlike the great majority of deities, was a humble god, prone to thrift and frugality, and while I believe this should be encouraged among deities everywhere, I did periodically yearn for a god who kept a grander residence. Not that Tarawa is without its moments of grandeur – it is, after all, a tropical island – it’s just that it’s very, very small.” (Chapter 5, pages 46-47)

I wholeheartedly agree with Troost’s own description of this book as “not too serious, not too stupid.” Part travelogue, part human interest, part political education, all snort-inducing. I had a blast while increasing the size of my brain.

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If you enjoyed this Sex Lives of Cannibals review, check out my review of Troost’s Lost on Planet Chinaan almost equally hysterical travelogue through “the world’s most disturbing nation.” Less memorable, but good for more than a few snorts, is Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu.