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Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story

Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story

4.3 7
by J. Maarten Troost

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Follow in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson with J. Maarten Troost, the bestselling author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals.
Readers and critics alike adore J. Maarten Troost for his signature wry and witty take on the adventure memoir. Headhunters on My Doorstep chronicles Troost’s return to the South Pacific


Follow in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson with J. Maarten Troost, the bestselling author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals.
Readers and critics alike adore J. Maarten Troost for his signature wry and witty take on the adventure memoir. Headhunters on My Doorstep chronicles Troost’s return to the South Pacific after his struggle with alcoholism left him numb to life. Deciding to retrace the path once traveled by the author of Treasure Island, Troost follows Robert Louis Stevenson to the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Tahiti, Kiribati, and Samoa, tumbling from one comic misadventure to another. Headhunters on My Doorstep is a funny yet poignant account of one man’s journey to find himself that will captivate travel writing aficionados, Robert Louis Stevenson fans, and anyone who has ever lost his way.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Newly sober travel writer Troost retraces Robert Louis Stevenson's route through the South Pacific from the Marquesas to Samoa in this evocative, funny literary memoir. He recounts his voyage upon the Aranui III cargo ship rooming with a seasick "family of cheerful gnomes from Lyon," battling the urge for a drink and acquiring a traditional Marquesan tattoo on the anniversary of his sobriety. Troost provides insight into addiction and recovery that, in his case, turned him from alcoholic to longdistance runner, and from Buddhism to the Catholic Church. We learn the history of the islands and view the beautiful landscapes of lagoons, atolls, and beaches through Troost's vibrant descriptions. Troost muses on quotes from Stevenson's In the South Seas, such as his thoughts on cannibalism, "to eat a man's flesh after he is dead is far less hateful than to oppress him whilst he lives." He also discusses other literary works about the South Pacific including Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl's Back to Nature and Herman Melville's Typee. Troost is an excellent travel narrator, clever, bold, and full of captivating visual details. His personal story of recovery is also powerfully told and will surely resonate with many readers. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Troost (The Sex Lives of Cannibals) has done it again: he has created a masterly travelog that is simultaneously informative, funny, and introspective. Troost returns to the South Pacific, where he lived years earlier, before settling down on (as he simply refers to it) a continent. He attributes his alcoholism to non-island time; whether large land masses can be blamed for his thirst for vodka is debatable, but what is unquestionable is his ability to look at himself and his foibles and weave them into a good tale—in this case his attempt to follow in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson. This book takes Troost to the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Tahiti (all three now part of French Polynesia), the Gilberts (now Kiribati), and, finally, Samoa. VERDICT Troost displays a level of sophistication rarely found in travel writing. His humor is spot on, and one needs humor when reading about the loss of indigenous culture in the Marquesas, the urban sprawl of Tahiti, and the notion that Kiribati may soon be subsumed by the Pacific Ocean. Acquire this book by any means possible. [See Prepub Alert, 12/13/12.]—Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
Following a stint in rehab, travel writer Troost (Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid, 2008, etc.) chronicles his journey toward finding his new sober self while following in the tracks of Robert Louis Stevenson. For years, Troost lived the good life: "For a long while, decades even, the sun had shone on me. Life had been an effortless glide." Then, suddenly, it wasn't, and his wife dropped him at a rehab center along with an ultimatum to sober up or else. On the road to recovery, the author delved into the literature of the South Seas, particularly Stevenson's Treasure Island. His curiosity reawakened following his newfound sobriety, Troost set out on his own adventure for some of the most remote islands on Earth, including the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Tahiti, the Gilberts and Samoa. Whether detailing the boorish behavior of other travelers, the serenity/fright experienced when snorkeling with sharks, rising sea levels or his own inadequacies, Troost's language rings true. The author candidly, humorously probes the nether regions of his addiction along with the temptations he encountered during his journey. "So now here I was," he writes, "nearly twelve months sober, alone for the first time in a faraway place, on a boatful of booze." Troost's sly wit permeates the narrative, propelling his saga out of the ranks of many recovery memoirs. The author weaves together entertaining and illuminating pop-culture touchstones, history, and cultural, culinary and literary references with personal experiences while rambling across the South Seas. A rambunctious, intimate trip well worth the armchair time.
From the Publisher
—The New York Times Book Review

“A splendid travel memoir.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A rambunctious, intimate trip well worth the armchair time.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Troost is a new generation’s answer to Bill Bryson.”
“Troost displays a level of sophistication rarely found in travel writing.  His humor is spot on, and one needs humor when reading about the loss of indigenous culture in the Marquesas, the urban sprawl of Tahiti, and the notion that Kiribati as a nation may soon be subsumed by the Pacific Ocean. Acquire this book by any means possible.”
—Library Journal

“[Troost] crafts exquisite paragraphs that capture the seductive beauty of the islands”
—National Geographic Traveler

Praise for the hardcover

Troost's sly wit permeates the narrative, propelling his saga out of the ranks of many recovery memoirs. The author weaves together entertaining and illuminating pop-culture touchstones, history, and cultural, culinary and literary references with personal experiences while rambling across the South Seas...A rambunctious, intimate trip well worth the armchair time.

(starred review) — Kirkus Reviews

“[Troost] crafts exquisite paragraphs that capture the seductive beauty of the islands…[and] unsheathes the same laugh-out-loud wit that marked Cannibals…Troost is an insightful guide, who can see beyond the superficial shimmer to the complexities underneath...

Ultimately, Troost’s tale is a celebration of persistence: his own persistent refusal to be seduced by alcohol, Stevenson’s persistent triumph over the tuberculosis and other diseases that wracked his body but didn’t conquer his spirit until he succumbed at the age of 44 on his beloved Samoa, and the persistent allure of those far-flung tropical specks of sand, as much fantasy as reality perhaps, but essential all the same.”
— National Geographic

Praise for The Sex Lives of Cannibals

“Troost has a command of place and narrative that puts him in the company of some of today’s best travel writers." — Elle


(Top 10 Memoirs)

— Publisher's Weekly

“A comic masterwork of travel writing” — Publishers Weekly

“A delightful, self-depreciating, extremely sly account of life in a place so wretched it gives new, terrible meaning to getting away from it all.” — National Geographic Adventure

"The Sex Lives of Cannibals is certain to be one of the most harrowing, witty and satisfying books of the summer... hilarious."
-Tuscon Citizen

"Books touted as "laugh-out-loud funny" frequently aren't, but fist-time author Troost has succeeded... Full of tall tales, ironic philosophizing and beer jokes, the book skewers the notion that 'civilized' Western ways are always a good thing."
-Newsweek International

“Troost has found his calling in broadly humorous travel writing. He's a natural: he can evoke a place with an ardor that will have you wanting to jump on the first plane; he's read his history; 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…. [but] also laugh at himself, almost as often as the islanders do. Troost… lives up to the billing as ‘a travel, adventure, humor, memoir kind of book’-and a really good one, at that.” — Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Getting Stoned with Savages:

“Troost is a funny, candid, and down-to-earth travel companion.” — Entertainment Weekly

“Troost manages to relate his misadventures in an irreverently funny style . . . this makes for a good beach read on your own vacation.” — Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“One of Troost’s greatest successes is that he’s not reporting, exactly, not writing as a journalist would, but simply living his life in a faraway place and writing about it.”

— The New York Times

“Troost… 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.”
-Kirkus Reviews

"Those who enjoyed... The Sex Lives of Cannibals will not be disappointed with this follow-up... readers sitting in offices, yearning to break free and live on a tropical isle, [Getting Stoned with Savages] provides a wonderful, witty view into the experience- the good and the bad. Recommended for all libraries." — Library Journal

Praise for Lost on Planet China; One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation
“Funny, insightful. China as you’ve never read it before.” — National Geographic Traveler

“At once breezy, funny, and edgy, with enough good reporting to make you feel what it’s like to walk China’s real streets.” — Houston Chronicle

“There are moments of humor and poignancy: an unsettling dalliance with an English translator called Meow Meow and an encounter with child beggars camped beneath a JumboTron screen in Qingdao that’s broadcasting an N.B.A playoff game.” — New York Times Book Review

“Troost’s crisp, engaging prose invites the reader to experience his adventures right alongside him. At turns meditative, whimsical, humorous, and shocked, Troost is an excellent guide to the vast, multifaceted country that is modern-day China.” — Booklist

“Made me laugh out loud more times then I can remember…Troost is already being lauded as the new generation’s answer to Bill Bryson; in my view , his wirting is markedly different, but it will definitely find an appreciative audience among Bryson fans.” — Bookpage

“Troost’s adventures are peppered with tremendous humor… and he’s magnificent writing about himself in the role of the bumbling Westerner. Readers will howl over his gastronomic imbroglios as well as his knack for attracting opportunistic, overly friendly women who offer their services as ‘tour guides.’” — Kirkus Reviews

“Troost is refreshingly upbeat… readers interested in a warts-and-all look at this complicated, evolving country will find this rich in education.” — Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“This is one of the year’s best travel books.” — World Hum

“Funny and engrossing.” — Barre Montpelier Times Argus

“Troost is the kind of guy with whom you’d drink a few beers, swap some stories, and laugh until you cry.” — Winnipeg Free Press

“Readers of the world should rejoice… Lost on Planet China is every bit as entertaining as [Troost’s] previous two. With his biting, self-depreciating wit, Troost becomes the perfect traveling companion. An example of travel writing at its best. Settle back and enjoy one of the most rollicking literary vacations yet.” — Tucson Citizen

“Hilarious.” — National Geographic Adventure

“It's a pleasure to travel with him… [a] hilarious and cutting narrative.” — Chicago Tribune

“Lost on Planet China seems to follow the Paul Theroux school of travel writing.”  — Lonely Planet

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Everyone has problems. Spend a few moments catching up with friends and you’re likely to hear a litany of catastrophes.

“I lost my job at the prison,” one might say.

“I’m going to prison,” says another.

“I’m about to lose my home.”

“I blew mine up to collect the insurance.”

“My ferret died.”

“I ate mine.”

“. . .”

“Long story.”

Tales of woe had become inescapable. What were once simple quandaries now seemed to come equipped with trapdoors. One misstep and you’d tumble into the chute of doom, where demotions became terminations, homeowners became squatters, and Little Bandit was no longer safe. I was no exception. I too had problems. Multitudes of problems. If something could go wrong, it usually did. The only law that seemed to apply to me was Mr. Murphy’s. For a long while, decades even, the sun had shone upon me. Life had been an effortless glide. I’d traveled the world, married my soul mate, sired two strapping boys, and wrote books that— I’ve been confidently informed—landed on the bestseller list in Eugene, Oregon. I couldn’t explain why good things happened to me. They just did. But then, like a bad Chinese proverb, my good fortune evaporated like a spilled Slurpee in a Phoenix parking lot. Everything that could go wrong . . . was not a thought I dared to finish. It could always get worse, and usually it did.

What’d happened? I wondered. Good luck seeks no antecedent, but bad luck demands an inquest. Was it simply written in the cosmos? Did the yin of happiness necessitate the yang of misery? Could it simply be bad karma? No, I thought, as I reflected on the causes of my misfortune. Behind every event, every circumstance, lay a cold, hard trail of facts. I needed only to follow the breadcrumbs of past experience to bring me to the source of my tribulations. And there, sadly, I found something immense and unmovable:


Bad things happened to me on large land masses. Terrible things.


This was a most unfortunate realization, of course. How I’d hoped to discover an unhappy childhood, an unjust prison sentence, or a soul-scarring bout of acne to explain the recent trajectory of my life. Who wants to blame their woes on something as inalterable as the North American tectonic plate? After all, continents are— at the very least— nice to look at. I too could admire majestic, snow-glazed mountains, the rivers that flowed with the tide of history, the buzz of the megacity. I am, for the record, appreciative of boreal forests and rain forests, deserts, and the vast expanse of the northern tundra. I like New York and Los Angeles, as well as Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dubai. I am fond of small towns. Also apple pie and yak, though not together. All this can be found on continents. But, alas, experience tells me that if I’m not surrounded by an ocean, my life crumbles like a stale cookie.

It’s true.

Take my most recent sojourn in North America. I’d protected my well-being by living on a peninsula. Surrounded by water on three sides, I navigated the perils of the modern world, and whenever events or situations threatened to leave my eyes agog and my head a- splitting, I retreated to a rented sailboat, where secure in a finite space surrounded by the infinite blue of the ocean, I navigated pitching waves and morning fog with an aplomb that failed me on dry land. On water I was free and sure; on land I felt like a lost fish. But then, chasing a job, I moved deeper into the continent, distant from familiar waters and sandy dunes, and there I fell.

Into the bottle to be precise. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. In retrospect, it was probably a foregone conclusion. I’d always had a temperamental shut-off valve. Open-minded to the mind-altering, I’d long ago learned to be wary of the seductive offerings of both the street and the pharmacy. I’d known that drugs could be a problem and that it was best to dispense with the experimentation early on. I pretty much maxed out on magic mushrooms. Instead, I’d settled into the steady companionship of pint glasses and decanters. Like everyone. It was normal, no? A few beers at the bar; wine with dinner. It was all good. In fact, hard liquor was a no-no in my world— until, eventually, it wasn’t, and there was that unknown moment when the proverbial invisible line was crossed, when everything started to tumble with a terrifying ferocity, and despite untold As-God-Is-My-Witness promises to get this under control, to show some restraint, I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop. Not until my wife, bless her, deposited me at rehab, where, sedated with Librium, I learned that lucky-ducky that I was, I had a fatal brain disease and should I ever pick up a drink again I might as well put five bullets in a six-shooter and shove it down my piehole.

So this was bad. And it happened on a continent. In my mind, the case was closed.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
A Conversation with J. Maarten Troost
What is it about the South Pacific that draws you back?
Have you ever wanted to escape, to fall off the map and disappear for a good long while? Me too. No place in the world elicits that kind of draw than an island in the South Seas. It’s where I go when I’m looking for a little dissonance in my life, a place to turn down the white noise of continental life and replace it with something more elemental. Like sharks. And long sea journeys. And sublime beauty. And all the other things that get your senses humming.
Also, having written two books about the region, I liked the idea of completing a South Pacific trilogy. It makes me feel like, I don’t know, a real man now.
You followed in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson. Why him? Have you read his books?
Stevenson has long been peripheral to my life, just hovering in the margins. It seemed like no matter where I washed up, whether on the islands of Kiribati or the Central Coast of California, I was somehow following in his footsteps. But it wasn’t until I started reading him that I decided to explicitly follow Stevenson. I liked how he described the early books on the South Pacific. He called them sugar candy sham epics. This dude can write, I thought. And then, the more I read of him - the more I began to immerse myself in his world - the more I felt like I was communing with some kind of soul brother. He does what all the great writers do, which is to make you feel like you’re not alone.   
What was it like going back to Kiribati?
Really trippy. At low tide, it seemed like nothing had changed since I lived there, which is remarkable really. Elsewhere in the world, the pace of change seems to have accelerated to warp speed. Kiribati, however, resides elsewhere in the space-time continuum, in a place where the movement of a turtle would be regarded as swift and reckless. At high tide, however, it is apparent that everything has changed. The islands are sinking. In a few years, Kiribati will be no more. And that is very sad.
Did it hurt getting a tattoo?
Not enough. I now look upon my body as a canvas, which is just so wrong when you’re over forty.
So you used to be a drunk. Discuss.
Yes, it turns out I’m an alcoholic. Yay for me. As far as I can tell, my story is pretty typical – a long period of fun with the drink, followed by a long period where the drinking became habitual and progressively less fun, followed by my world basically collapsing on account of my boozing, which was no fun at all. On the upside, as far as diseases go, this is a pretty good one to get. All you need to do is stop drinking and it’s amazing how much better your life gets. No chemo, no amputations of limbs, no painful injections. On the downside, quitting drinking can be devilishly hard for alcoholics. Not long after I finished my South Pacific travels I found myself at a literary festival in France, where I blithely accepted a glass of champagne and opened up that Pandora’s box all over again. Sigh. How I envy those with allergies to gluten and peanuts. But it is what it is and there’s nothing to do but to be honest about it, pick yourself up, and take it one day at a time.
Do you have any advice or resources for those who are looking to quit drinking?
There are as many paths to recovery as there are alcoholics. But generally, what works for most people is some combination of meetings with like-minded souls, exercise, yoga, meditation, and a healthy diet. But I like what Stephen King had to say about alcoholism. He called it the Liar’s Disease. Boozers and junkies are reflexive liars. And they’re really good at it. Being honest is pretty much the foundation of sobriety.
You talk about replacing drinking with running. Do you still run?
Yes, running remains important to me. I mix it up with Bikram Yoga, but I still get a kick out of going for a long run and not dying of a cardiac event.
There sure are some funny names for islands in the South Pacific. What is your favorite name and why?
In my home, Fakarava never fails to elicit snorts and giggles.
You discuss collecting native artwork. What is your most prized possession?
I have a large clay and bark mask from the island of Malekula in Vanuatu. Its gaze is one of devilish delight, like it knows the answer to a great cosmic riddle and it can’t help but laugh.

Meet the Author

J. Maarten Troost was a consultant for the World Bank and has lived in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Canada, Kiribati, Fiji, and Vanuatu, among other exotic locations, before settling down near Washington, D.C.

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Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
DanePaul More than 1 year ago
Headhunters on my Doorstep is an amazing piece of work. The author writes with both wit and wisdom. It is a fun adventure and I'm glad I got to go along for the ride through his book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Superior_Shores More than 1 year ago
This was not the book I anticipated from J. Maarten. I have been a huge fan of Mr. Troost and would cherish the opportunity to meet him in person. This is not just a trip around the South Pacific but more a struggle with a man and his demons. It is not of the caliber of the "Sex Lives of Cannibals". Over time, I pray for another "Sex Lives...." quality product. I wanted to give Three-Star for readability and Five for content.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leader: Firestar <p> Deputy: Brackenfur <p> Warriors: Pebblestep <br> Mountainclaw <br> Rockpelt <br> Cometstorm <br> Ripplewave <br> Waterwhirl <br> Emberleaf, Apprintence: Brookpaw <br> Shellpool <br> Flamewind <br> Articfrost <br> Berryleaf <br> Grassfur <br> Tundraheart <br> Cloudfur <br> Fallsong <br> Falconsong <br> Ashfur <br> Rosepetal <br> Dovewing <br> Poppycloud <br> Birdseye <br> Graystripe <p> Medicence Cat: Flowernose <p> Medicence Cat Apprintence: Leafbreeze <p> Apprintences: Brookpaw <p> Queens: None at the moment. <p> Elders: Rabbitflight <br> Minnowfern <br> Jayfeather <p> (NOTE TO ALL: The family line in my saga is so long I forget cats. So please excuse me if a cat may just appear in camp that was not mentioned in the allegiences. Bye!)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Put it here if you can if you dont understand what i mean by spaceing it heres a example the name "reyliea" spaceing it would be "r e y l i e a" does that make sence and for the @ thing make sure that is spaced for sure alright