After years of intense international research, local scribe Adam Leith Gollner produces his product on produce
When Adam Leith Gollner and I meet in Montreal’s Chinatown to check out some exotic fruit, I can immediately tell that he’s in his element. He picks up a spiky rugby ball, gives it a good sniff and grimaces. "Ah, terrible." I give him an inquisitive look. "There’s something wrong with your durian if it doesn’t stink," he explains. "These don’t stink." The durian, I remember reading in The Fruit Hunters, is said to "smell like Hell, and taste like Heaven," and is called the King of Fruit by enthusiasts.
As he gently fingers rambutans that look like giant hairy strawberries and dukus that look like new potatoes clustered around a vine like grapes, I’m convinced that Gollner is as obsessed by nature’s sweet treats as his book leads you to believe. One part first-person travelogue and one part encyclopaedia, The Fruit Hunters is more than just an introduction into a world of fruit far beyond anything we get at our local grocery stores. As Adam says himself, "While researching this book I realized what non-fiction writing is – it’s finding characters who are alive, and just taking notes." Getting excited, he adds, "Some of these people, it was amazing – fully formed sentences come flowing out of their mouths like crystals."
Indeed, while the research Gollner has painstakingly compiled and edited together is compelling, it’s the diverse universe of people that keep the pages turning. Fruit detectives take him to places in the jungle where even the natives don’t go, inventors let him in on their secrets (how to make apples taste like grapes), businessmen tell him tales of the fruit trade that read like something out of an Ian Fleming novel.
But the most interesting part of the book is to observe the obsession growing within the author himself as he tracks down fruit freaks and the freak fruits they love. Having told me that he only realized after three years of research that there might be a book somewhere in all his notes, I ask him if anything came easy over the past six years.
"Nothing came easy. The vocabulary of flavour is scant."
Uncertainty and myriad difficulties were ever-present companions during his journey, but the end result, much like a perfectly ripe fruit, has been very satisfying.
"In the Simon and Schuster boardroom at the top of the Rockefeller Center, I brought some miracle fruit [which turns all things sour into sweet] for my publishers to taste. The director of publicity looked around at the 20 editors and marketing execs slurping up lemons and said, ‘This is the craziest thing that ever happened up here!’"
The Fruit Hunters
Launches at the Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore (211 Bernard W.), June 5, 7 p.m.