Tropical islands are nice, right? Sandy beaches, friendly locals, and buckets of fruity drinks to slurp. Onetime office lackey Troost certainly thought that was the case...until he blindly took a government job on the remote island atoll of Tarawa -- a ''littered, stinking sandbar'' where residents trashed pristine reefs with dirty diapers, ''Macarena'' served as an unofficial national anthem, and pigs roamed the airport runway. By the time he left two years later, Troost was so hungry for American culture -- nay, any culture -- that he found himself ''longing to hear nothing more than a Jay Leno monologue.'' Throughout, Troost makes unconvincing attempts to rationalize inhabitants' helplessness through the isle's little-known history. But he saves his story with a wicked sense of exasperation at how his supposed South Pacific adventure devolved into a sun-soaked nightmare.