Headhunters on My Doorstep

9781592407897Travel writing is not memoir. It’s just not. It’s a different genre, with a different tradition, themes, etc.

That said, all travel writing has an element of memoir. We all need to know who our guide is, why they’re going where they’re going, and the things they’re thinking about on the way.

J Maarten Troust has always leaned more on the travel, less on the memoir. His FANTASTIC first three books were light, funny, and endearing. This one is a post-crisis read. Unbeknownst to his readers, he was apparently becoming an alcoholic during the previous three books. After a stint in rehab, he went back out to write.

He decided his problem was “continents,” so he went island-hopping. He popped around the French Pacific, trying to figure out how he could possibly be in France out here. He made fun of himself, satirized his alcoholism and his newfound exercise-addiction.

And, as all the best travel writers do, he met interesting people. He met a tattoo artist who did not inspire confidence. He met children who didn’t have a problem swimming in shark-infested water. And he went home again, back to the beginning, to the setting of his first book in I-Kiribati.

Maybe you can’t go home again, but maybe that’s a good thing. That’s the same feeling you get when you pick up a very different book by a familiar author: confusion, irritation, and then an understanding of what this new thing is. This book is very different from the last three Troust books. It’s not as funny, or as domestic. It’s a lot more focused on modernization, because that’s what he saw.

It’s interesting. It’s self-pitying in a good way, without wallowing or going off-topic. And it’s got sharks and volcanoes. What more could you ask?

But by the way, the subtitle is a total lie: there are no damn ghosts in this book.

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