Snap Judgement: Books

The Sex Lives of Cannibals By J. Maarten Troost

Books touted as "laugh-out-loud funny" frequently aren't, but first-time author Troost has succeeded with his account of two years spent on a little-known Pacific atoll. Troost comes across as a charming slacker with a keen ethnographic eye and a sense of the absurd. We meet the hard-partying Minister of Health who gives departing visitors cans of beer; and islanders who would rather listen to La Macarena than sing their own lovely songs. Full of tall tales, ironic philosophizing and beer jokes, the book skewers the notion that "civilized" Western ways are always a good thing.

Urgentiste by Patrick Pelloux (in French)

In August 2003, nearly 15,000 people in France died in an unprecedented heat wave, and emergency-room doctor Pelloux watched nightmarish scenes unfold in the country's public hospitals. His scathing memoir, "Urgentiste," is a blow-by-blow account of the events and reads like a chronicle of a disaster foretold. The huge death toll wasn't the unexpected result of a sudden breakdown of the system, he argues, but rather the consequence of chronic mismanagement by the Health Ministry and hospitals. Disturbingly, Pelloux asserts that the government has been slow to implement changes; if temperatures had soared again this summer, he says, the body count would have been even higher.

Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam

Aslam has captured the British imagination with this remarkable second novel. The award-winning British-Pakistani writer spent 11 years in cloistered penury, laboring over the story of the so-called honor killing of two unmarried lovers. Aslam, a lapsed Muslim, is a stern critic of the faith. But his focus on the exotic "Oriental" may earn him as many critics among liberal Asians as among fundamentalists.