Book Review - The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean was another recommendation from a friend in terms of a book I would enjoy. And overall, I did enjoy it. Little did I know that a simple flower could have such history and obsession behind it...
This is a true story that covers Orlean's trip to Florida to meet John Laroche, a strange and quirky person who figures as the criminal referenced in the title of the book. Laroche was brought to trial for removing protected plants (orchids) from the Fakahatchee swamp area in Florida, a protected piece of land. He was working with the Seminole Indian tribe at the time, as the land is located on their property. His plan was to get the orchids and start cloning them for sale by the reservation, thereby making "millions" by his estimate. But like many of his quirky plans and schemes, it never quite came to fruition. Orlean follows him around for a period of time, meeting the personalities that make up the orchid world, tramping through swamps up to her waist (and higher in places), and falling in love with the flower that has driven so many people over the years.
The story started off very strong. Her writing is humorous, and Laroche is a character that's easy to laugh at. She captures his bizarre nature and appearance perfectly, and I felt like I knew him quite well by the time the book was done. A large part of the middle portion of the book goes into the history of the orchid along with the history of the people who gave birth to the orchid industry as it is today. That's where I thought things slowed down. The style went from crazy people and interactions to history going back over decades and centuries. While I appreciated the history lessons, it was a noticeable departure from the earlier tone I had expected and enjoyed. It picked back up at the end as she was trying to finish her quest with a sighting of the ghost orchid, and the flavor of the earlier chapters once again emerged.
Overall, it was a good read. And like many good books, my view and perception of the orchid will never quite be the same. I'll appreciate it much more, and wonder what craziness brought that particular flower to that particular time and space.