Excerpt from Banana by Dan Koeppel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Banana

The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

by Dan Koeppel

Banana
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2008, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2009, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Paul Hughes

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Linnaeus's family designation for banana, Musa, derives from mauz, the Arabic word for the fruit. This makes sense, since the Koran also situates the banana in the sacred garden. There, Eden's forbidden tree is called the talh, an archaic Arabic word that scholars usually translate as "tree of paradise" (or sometimes even more directly as "banana tree"). The Islamic sacred text describes the tree as one whose "fruits piled one above another, in long extended shade…whose season is not limited, and [whose] supply will not be cut off." Sure enough, that description matches the concentric rings of banana bunches and the plant's multigenerational life span.

But let's swing back to the Judeo-Christian Bible, for a moment. In the Western story of Eden, Adam and Eve are said to react to their nakedness by covering themselves with "fig leaves." Fig greenery might cover the essentials, barely. Banana leaves are actually used to make clothing (as well as rope, bedding, and umbrellas) in many parts of the world, even today. In this case, the word for the Edenic fruit isn't mistranslated, just misunderstood: Bananas have been called figs throughout history. Alexander the Great, after sampling the fruit in India, described it as such, as did Spanish explorers in the New World. The clincher comes from ancient Hebrew. In that language, the language of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, including Genesis), notes Levin, a word for the forbidden fruit translates directly: It is called the "fig of Eve."


AS THEY IMAGINED EDEN, the authors of the Bible would have, most likely, drawn from the landscape around them. And what was around them? Over the centuries, there have been dozens of attempts to scientifically locate the "genuine" Eden. Some have been exercises in theological speculation (like the Mormon notion that Eden sat somewhere near St. Louis). Others try to match landmarks in the text with real geological features. In Genesis, for example, four rivers—the Tigris, Euphrates, Pison, and Gihon—are said to have bounded the paradise. The first two still exist today, flowing through Iraq and Iran. The other pair are mysteries. In the early 1980s, however, archaeologist Juris Zarins used satellite imagery to locate vestiges of two long-vanished waterways. By calculating variations in climate and terrain, Zarins concluded that the four rivers did intersect in what was once lush valley, now submerged offshore in the Persian Gulf.

A Middle Eastern Eden could have been hospitable to bananas, and the people living there almost certainly would have been familiar with the fruit. Even today, the region is a growth center for the fruit, which is farmed in Jordan, Egypt, Oman, and Israel. Those same areas are not terribly friendly to the apple, which grows there today in limited quantities, and with the assistance of modern agriculture.

Finally, it's interesting to note that mankind's true condemnation to a life of struggle doesn't begin when Adam and Eve are cast out of biblical Eden but afterward, in the story of Cain and Abel. The brothers work diligently and, from the abundance around them, make offerings to God: Abel makes an animal sacrifice and Cain fruit. Cain's tribute displeases God, and, angered, Cain kills his younger brother. As punishment, God condemns Cain to "till the ground," which will "no longer yield to you its strength." Just like farmers today, in the Holy Land and across the world, Cain was forced to struggle with weather, drought, pests, and blight. In that struggle, the first human communities sought out crops that were easiest to grow: roots (like taro, yam, and cassava) and fruit—like bananas.

Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Banana by Dan Koeppel. Copyright © Dan Koeppel, 2008.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...
  • Book Jacket: Barkskins
    Barkskins
    by Annie Proulx
    Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, is not a book to read quickly. After a month of slow reading, I ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Marriage of Opposites
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's latest work, The Marriage of Opposites, is a historical fiction novel focusing on ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Secret Language of Stones
    by M. J. Rose

    "A fantastic historical tale of war, love, loss and intrigue."
    – Melanie Benjamin

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Falling
    by Jane Green

    "Readers who enjoy a love story with heart will adore this tale of homecoming and transformation." - LJ

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!