The Orchid Thief Book Review

The Orchid Thief is a book by writer and journalist Susan Orlean and is based on a true story. In 1994, Susan Orlean did her journalist investigation of John Laroche’s conviction for poaching rare orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. First, as a result of the investigation, an article in The New Yorker magazine appeared. Susan Orlean was so intrigued by the story, that later an article developed into a book. The book served as a basis for a movie Adaptation, in many events were fictionalized. In the movie, Susan Orlean hero becomes Laroche’s lover and partner in his illegal business, production of drugs by processing orchids into psychoactive substance. We do not know whether romance between Laroche and Orlean had place in real life, but passion for the flower was definitely at the heart of both of them.

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John Laroche, the main hero of the book, is a plant dealer, who was determined to find and clone the rare and precious ghost orchid for profit. He was arrested together with some people from Seminole tribe for poaching rare orchids near the swamps in South Florida. Susan Orleans went to Florida to investigate the mystical story and ended up spending nearly two years hiking the swamps of Florida, learning about orchids, ecology, and Laroche’s partners, members of Seminole tribes. She became just as passionate about the orchids as subjects of her investigation were.

Passion for orchids is not new. There is even special name created for it, orchidelirium. Orchids have fascinated people for many centuries. They are indeed, very special flowers. Orchids often outlive human beings. In fact, orchids can theoretically live forever, since they have no natural enemies. Some orchid owners designate a person as an “orchid heir” in their wills since the owners expect that their precious orchids will outlive them. Laroche is not the first fanatic. He was dreaming about cloning the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii a making a fortune out of it for himself and his Seminole partners. That is how Laroche describes his obsession to the beautiful flowers, “I have to watch myself, especially around plants. Even now, just being here, I still get that collector feel. You know what I mean. I’ll see something, and then suddenly I get that feeling. It’s like I can’t just have something I have to have it and learn about it and grow it and sell it and master it and have a million of it.”

Even Orlean while investigating the story, develops a desire to see a ghost orchid blooming and makes several ultimately unsuccessful hiking trips into the Fakahatchee. I believe, at the beginning of her investigation, Susan Orlean became more interested in human nature and passion for the flower, more than in flower itself. Orlean had voluntarily immersed herself in the world of orchid maniacs and became intrigued by their love to the orchid flower. Later, the also develops affection to the orchids. Becoming a part of the story, Susan Orlean wishes she could be as passionate about something as her subjects are about orchids.

Susan Orlean very successfully depicts the fascinating world of obsession and collecting the plants. She inserts her own experiences and thoughts into the story with a complete rejection of false objectivity. She is experiencing all the events, and the story is mainly about her trip and experiences.

Laroche has intrigued Susan Orlean with his passion, obsession for the flowers. His knowledge and keenness for the art and science of plants are entertaining. He is not a very good friend, a criminal according to Florida’s laws. He is a man of broken dreams. Even though Susan denies it herself, who knows, maybe she did have a crush on him or even fell in love with this extraordinary man? Maybe her interest with Laroche has triggered her interest in human obsessions and beautiful orchids.

Her experiences and bravery in the beastly Fakahatchee Swamp, home of many wild orchids, are fascinating. Plunging into brackish water up to the waist, and having to tote around for submerged alligators on the squishy bottom is not for the faint of heart. Susan tends to be shy, hates the heat, is homesick, tired of driving all over, fears the swamp, but she persists. She went through the series of hardships for the sake of the orchids.

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