When a curiously titled book called “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” quietly appeared on bookshop shelves in 2004, little did we know that the author, one J. Maarten Troost, would pen some of the most memorable and laugh-out-loud travel prose since Bill Bryson began jotting down his travel experiences. In his book, Troost managed to turn his account of being stuck on a tiny, relatively cultureless, and inactive island into a rollicking read.
Two years later, Troost gave a repeat performance with “Getting Stoned with Savages,” where he, once again, followed his wife to a tiny island nation (in this case Vanuatu and Fiji) and soon found himself knee-deep in hijinks and misadventure. In Troost’s third and most recent tome, he changes gears, taking on China. Though he rarely strays off the beaten path in Lost on Planet China, Troost’s keen eye for the absurd has become even sharper. The result is one of the year’s best travel books. David Farley caught up with Troost via email to discuss China on the eve of the Olympic Games.
World Hum: After writing about island nations in your previous two books, what inspired you to take on a beast like China for your next book?
J. Maarten Troost: In retrospect, I had no idea what I was in for when I set out to do a book about China. I was simply curious. I’d been living in the far periphery of the world for so long that these tidbits of news you now and then hear about China—Lenovo buying IBM, for instance, or the fact that there are more than a hundred billionaires in China—seemed all the more startling. And as I began to read more, it seemed clear that if you’re going to understand this world, you need to understand China. Plus, I like a little dissonance in my life, and nothing is more dissonant than moving from the world’s smallest nations to its largest.