The initial bemusement you feel when faced with a book dedicated solely to fruit soon dissipates upon reading the first few pages of Gollner's debut book. A journalist and filmmaker, Gollner's ‘story of nature, adventure, commerce and obsession' comes to fruition in a delectable narrative.
The Fruit Hunters is essentially a travelogue where sensuous descriptions of exotic fruits such as the taste transforming miracle fruit and the suggestively shaped coco de mer are interspersed with historical titbits and intriguing accounts of the weird and wacky people he encounters.
By the end of the book you will be bursting with juicy little facts: Idi Amin became a fruitarian in his last days; there are enough varieties of apples that you could eat a different one each day for the rest of your life; Cassanova used lemons as contraceptive diaphragms...
These delightful and often downright dirty snippets spur the reader on, despite structural incoherence and occasional tedium brought on by lengthy descriptions heaped with metaphors and similes.
Behind the amusing anecdotes however, lies a darker, more investigative side to the story.
Gollner reveals how the requirements of big agriculture and global food markets have resulted in ‘Stepford fruits: gorgeous replicants that look perfect, feel like silicon implants and taste like tennis balls, mothballs or mealy, juiceless cotton wads', and thus emphasizes the need for a return to local, organic produce.
Through his meetings with fruit explorers, collectors and growers all dedicated to conserving the ‘worldwide homogeneity bomb', Gollner also draws attention to the loss of biodiversity that is occurring as the world's habitats and species are threatened by logging, agriculture, tourism and smuggling.
Important insights into the corruption and power relations involved in world trade and food markets are gleaned from tales of banana growers funding Columbian terrorism, mafia-like wholesale fruit traders, and the vested interests of FDA representatives.
Other themes the book touches upon include the dangers of introducing foreign species, the exploitation of workers in fruit plantations, the dangers of pesticide use, and the (lack of) nutritional benefit found in the fruits of bland supermarket shopping aisles. However these are all weaved into the narrative, stated matter of factly and not forming some overarching moral or 'take home' environmental message.
All in all, this book will make you see your five a day in a completely new light, and if it does not ignite a sense of adventure or inspire a lust for the undiscovered, at least you'll have a great repertoire of fruity ditties to entertain with at your next dinner party.
The Fruit Hunters: a story of nature, adventure, commerce and obsession by Adam Leith Gollner (Souvenir Press, £18.99)