Newcomer Troost nests on a tiny island in the vast Pacific, finding it strange and unappealing, though not utterly without its pleasures.
The beer, for instance: one of the few ingestibles the island of Tarawa possesses that is neither odious nor toxic. A part of the Republic of Kiribati (known to the British colonial community as the Gilberts), Tarawa is a sliver of coral that pretty much defines the idea of remoteness. This spot at the end of the world was the center of Troost’s world for two years after he followed his girlfriend to her posting on the island. No, he wasn’t emulating Thoreau or Gauguin, just taking the kind of whimsical step a recent, reticent graduate student would consider when “flummoxed by what career to pursue.” Well, Troost has found his calling in broadly humorous travel writing. He’s a natural: he likes tumbling into the ditches of digression; he can evoke a place (Prague, in a digression from the Tarawa saga) with an ardor that will have you wanting to jump on the first plane; he’s read his history (there is a sharp background chapter on the rancorous influence of missionaries, traders, and chiefly wars fueled by drink); he’s no chump when it comes to the ironies and iniquities of politics; he can write an entire engaging chapter on the day the beer ran out in Tarawa; and he is capable of saying things like, “I was under the impression that only occurred in places like tribal Pakistan,” or, “there have been occasions when toilet bowls have spoken to me. Don’t do shots, they said.” He can also laugh at himself, almost as often as the islanders do. Okay, so Tarawa is less paradise than purgatory, but hang in there—Troost will lead you to paradise, too.
Lives up to the billing as “a travel, adventure, humor, memoir kind of book”—and a really good one, at that.