Usually, I bail on a book if I don’t like it. When I stick with a book that’s slow moving, it’s rarely good a decision. But I’m glad that I continued reading Headhunters on My Doorstep Sunday, author J Marten Troost managed to build momentum after a shaky start.
Troost gets his mojo back when the freighter Aranui III reaches the Marquesas, specifically the island Fatu Hiva, which is reachable only by sea. Once on land, Troost and some of his fellow passengers go on a long hike across the island and began to experience the indigenous culture.
To be sure, Troost does not fix all of Headhunters‘ shortcomings. At the time of the trip, he’d recently been through rehab and – like all converts to a new faith – he cannot stop talking about it. In place of drinking, Troost has taken up distance running, which he also discusses at length. A final drawback is that Troost fails to translate many of the French phrases that he hears and the reader is left wondering what was said.
Humor, Famous Travelers, & Stereotypes Found
But, on the whole, I was pleased with what I read Sunday. Troost is typical of many travelers these days – he’s seeking the authentic, the real culture of the place. But, even in the Marquesas this proves to be a challenge. In Chapter Ten he jumps ship and strikes out on his own.
Humor is among Troost’s gifts (though he sometimes misses the mark). For example, many of the Marquesans believe that all Americans are wealthy. Troost writes –
“And as for your average middle-class American, I wanted to explain to the handicraft sellers hovering around me, we have this weird retirement scheme where we are more or less obliged to hand over our savings to this place called Wall Street, which is kind of like entrusting your future to a leech, and as you watch it engorge itself with your blood, you simply hope that someday in the future, the leech will give it back. Most of us – especially those under the age of forty-five – don’t have pensions like those Commie Europeans. And because leeches are not to be trusted, I wanted to add, Americans are now tightwads” (pp. 66-67).
Troost also includes long digressions on South Pacific travelers Paul Gauguin (in Chapter 8) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Chapter 9). The Gauguin material – in which Troost considers Gauguin as a man with a horrible substance-abuse problem – is quite interesting. But the Stevenson material seemed flat and padded out; you probably could get the same basic biography by surfing the ‘net.
Inevitably, the best material concerns the people – both Marquesans and travelers – whom Troost meets. In a mock prayer to God, Troost sums up this rogues gallery as follows –
“But an anti-Semitic Frenchman? An Israeli Jew with a lust for gold? Really? This is what You send me? You know that as a Gentile, I can’t touch that. What’s next? Will I be encountering a black man eating watermelon tomorrow? A Chinese guy doing kung fu? A WASP in seersucker shorts? A gay man with a lisp? You, Sir, have a very twisted view of comedy. But thanks for the cannibal. Good night, Amen” (p. 144).
Put a Number to It
So, I’ll adjust my all-important rating of Headhunters to 7/10 (up from 6/10 one day ago).