Troost returns to the South Pacific, where he had spent a couple years on Kiribati (The Sex Lives of Cannibals, 2004), when the sensory overload of life in Washington, D.C., gave way to a gilded weariness.
His life as a well-paid drone for the World Bank got to Troost. He yearned for his days on Kiribati, at their wonder and mystery, of water so blue it made him gasp. Forget the human feces on the beach, ringworm and dengue fever, the unrelieved diet of rice and rotten fish and the dreadful time the beer delivery went to the wrong island. Living on a South Pacific island could be grim, horrifying and revolting, Troost writes, but never less than interesting. So off he goes with his wife to Vanuatu, where the earth is alive and well and reminds you of it everyday, whether through volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. Troost works hard to find all that is fine and weird on the former British-French land mass. There will be coconut shells filled with kava—the local recreational intoxicant wrung from a masticated spitball of pepper bush root; discussion of the impulse behind cannibalism (“while I may not have completely understood what holy communion was all about, Catholicism did allow me to see the nuances in cannibalism”); and considerations of the spectacular governmental corruption of the island. Troost, who also briefly nests in Fiji, is a travel writer who delivers the gratifying, old-school goods: curious cultural practices; encounters with venomous, nay murderous, creatures; perspective on recent history, with all the chaos wrought by European interlopers.
Troost is now washed up in landlocked Sacramento, but this “unapologetic escapist” should soon be on the move.