Saturday, February 1, 2014

Orchid Fever. A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy by Eric Hansen

There is something distinctive about the sight and sound of a human body falling from the rain forest canopy.

This is the first sentence in this quite funny and intriguing book about people who are orchid freaks, and the book just gets better from the first sentence onward.

Hansen follows orchid lovers around the world wide-eyed in a cloud of disbelief at what he is witnessing: he goes on clandestine orchid finding trips and interprets to the locals in the rain forest that yes, these silly men with their collapsible toilets and power bars have paid thousands of dollars just to take a picture of a flower instead of using it, say, for medicine. He also describes the erotic nature of orchid lovers' conventions, where he is surrounded in the darkness by silent fidgeting, heavy breathing and occasional gasping when new orchid hybrids are introduced to appreciative murmur. Although Hansen finds his subjects and obsession over a flower hilarious he slowly realizes that he has become obsessed himself: in hunting down all of the interesting characters who occupy the hall of fame in the world of orchid lovers.

Hansen not only makes gentle fun of his subjects when it is appropriate--when the levels of absurdity are just too high not to--but he also appreciates the passion with which these orchid lovers lead their lives. The book is less of a history of orchid lunacy and more of a picture of human obsession and where it can lead people, from punching a security official in the kisser at the airport and getting detained to finding out that people who make laws about importing and preserving orchids seem to have ulterior motives that serve only themselves (quelle surprise!).

Hansen's carefully placed dry humor is guffaw-inducing, yet I did not emerge from reading this as if orchid collectors and growers were a butt of a joke. On the contrary: while orchid obsession, as any obsession, can get quite ludicrous, under Hansen's guidance it all also makes sense.

I highly recommend Orchid Fever for anyone who is looking for an entertaining read about the absurdity of humans, even if you couldn't care less about flowers.

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