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3 Beaverton Gardening- Writing

The Orchid Thief


The Orchid Thief Cover



Reading Group Guide

1) Is there a hero in The Orchid Thief? An anti-hero?

2) Is the book subjective? Objective? Or a different genre altogether?

3) Some people describe this as "literary non-fiction." Is that how you would characterize it?

4) Susan Orlean resists the temptation to feel possessed by the orchids but she is willing to undergo great trials in order to satisfy her passion for reporting. Is this passion evident in her writing?

5) The passion for collecting is described in the book as a means of infusing meaning into life, subjecting the vicissitudes to some order, acquiring the ability to mold and change the nature of things, i.e. create life itself. What other means do humans employ to achieve the same ends, and how effective are they?

6) John Laroche would not describe himself as an orchid person. To him the orchid is a temporary albeit very intense passion, a means to an end, not an end in itself. How would you analyze the difference between Laroche's motives in collecting orchids and the regular orchid collectors we visit in the course of the book?

7) Laroche wrestles verbally with the thought that acting within what he considered the bounds of the law for his own immediate gain was ultimately an act of altruism. His rape of the Fakahatchee would force the law to be changed and close the loophole that allowed him to poach rare and wild orchids form an Indian reservation in the first place, thus protecting the species in the wild, and securing it for the marketplace at the same time. Is this the thought process of an amoral character? Or is he just an everyday charlatan? Discuss.

8) Laroche makes a very telling statement: "When I had my own nursery I sometimes felt like all the people swarming around were going to eat me alive. I felt like they were that gigantic parasitic plant and I was the dying host tree." Is Laroche playing the role of the victim, the martyr to a (preferably lost, but grand) cause or is he in control of his life by making a living off other people's weaknesses, whether it be a passion for orchids or pornography? Discuss.

9) Orlean seems fascinated by the story of Darwin and the study of the orchid with the eighteen inch nectary and the moth with the eighteen inch proboscis to feed on it: the idea that two totally different life forms evolved specifically to serve each other; that neither could have existed without the other. What has the evidence of the orchid's adaptability altered your perception of the theories of evolution?

10) Orlean interrupts her central narrative of John Laroche with stories of the orchid hunters of the past, the contemporary state for Florida and other histories. How does this affect the pace of the work?

11) Is the framework she has devised successful?

12) The Native Americans on the reservation are entitled by one law to remove protected species from their land. Is this law justified?

13) Orlean seems surprised by the abundance of sexual references to orchids in their book. Yet the flower is the prime sexual organ of most plants. Seek out a florist with a good representation of orchids. What alternative descriptions of these exotic flowers can you devise?

14) What is the real core, the central character, of the book: Laroche? Florida? Orchids? Native Americans? Darwin? Orlean?

15) As a reader, what did you expect from a book about orchids?

16) How did your experience for reading The Orchid Thief compare to what you expected?

17) The working title of The Orchid Thief was "Passion." What does that suggest about the themes in the book?

18) What, besides orchids, could generate a book like this?

19) Are there other subcultures or other objects of desire that might be as provocative?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

christine buhl, January 4, 2010 (view all comments by christine buhl)
Fantastic book! Intertwines the complex relationships between people, who can sometimes be nuts, and the plants that may drive them nuts. Blooming botanists should also check out Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy by Eric Hansen.
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stephanie, September 21, 2006 (view all comments by stephanie)
A bit dense with Florida history, if that sort of thing doesn't interest you, but a lovely, well-written look into the obsession of orchid-lovers and a fascinating account of one nutty man and his odd passions.
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Product Details

Orlean, Susan
Ballantine Books
New York :
Flowers - Orchids
Orchid culture
Plant collectors
Nursery growers
Polyradicion lindenii
Scientists - General
Laroche, John
Orlean, Susan
General Fiction
non-fiction;orchids;florida;botany;biography;fiction;journalism;obsession;nature;true crime;flowers;crime;memoir;history;american;plants;gardening;horticulture;science;collectors;natural history;biology;obsessions;novel;movie;environment;20th century;ever
Edition Number:
1st Ballantine ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Ballantine reader's circle
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.16x5.46x.70 in. .63 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Science and Technology
Featured Titles » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » Americana » Southern States
Home and Garden » Gardening » History and Theory
Home and Garden » Gardening » Orchids and Epiphytes
Home and Garden » Gardening » Writing
Science and Mathematics » Nature Studies » Botany
Travel » Travel Writing » General

The Orchid Thief Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.50 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780449003718 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Artful...In Ms. Orlean's skillful handling, her orchid story turns out to be distinctly 'something more.' Getting to know Mr. Laroche allows her to explore multiple subjects: orchids, Seminole history, the ecology of the Fakahatchee Strand, the fascination of Florida to con men....All that she writes here fits together because it is grounded in her personal experience...acres of opportunity where intriguing things can be found."
"Review" by , "Orlean writes in a keenly observant mode reminiscent of John McPhee and Diane Ackerman....In prose as lush and full of surprises as the Fakahatchee itself, Orlean connects orchid-related excesses of the past with the exploits of the present so dramatically an orchid will never just be an orchid again."
"Review" by , "Orlean's hilariously reported, discursive narrative wanders off into Seminole history, real estate fraud, stolen flora, and the scary, swampy Fakahatchee Strand. Just when you fear you're lost in the Everglades, she returns to the flower at hand, and unleashes some delirious prose....Orlean shows great restraint and never adopts an orchid--readers may not manage to be so cold-blooded."
"Review" by , "The collecting mania that Susan Orlean has so painstakingly described is, like the orchid, a small thing of grandeur, a passion with a pedigree...Stylishly written, whimsical yet sophisticated, quirkily detailed and full of empathy for a person you might not have thorugh about empethetically...The Orchid Thief shows her gifts in full bloom."
"Review" by , "The best writers make you care about something you never noticed before. Susan Orlean is a perfect example...In a dry reporter's style, spiked with wit and charged with infectious enthusiasm, Orlean explains orchid biology and traces the history of orchid hunting, scattering surprises as she goes....An endearingly timid explorer who shudders each time she lowers herself into the teeming ooze of the Fakahatchee, Orlean is also an acute observer of the personalities and rivalries she encounters...Orlean allows accidental discoveries and encounters to dicate the book's peculiar, engrossing course."
"Synopsis" by , The orchid thief is John Laroche, a renegade plant dealer and sharply handsome guy in spite of the fact that he is missing all his teeth and has the posture of al dente spaghetti. This national bestseller follows him into the Florida swamp to relate his mesmerizing true story of beauty and obsession.
"Synopsis" by , US

A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orleans wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating tale of an amazing obsession.

From Floridas swamps to its courtrooms, the New Yorker writer follows one deeply eccentric and oddly attractive mans possibly criminal pursuit of an endangered flower. Determined to clone the rare ghost orchid, Polyrrhiza lindenii, John Laroche leads Orlean on an unforgettable tour of Americas strange flower-selling subculture, along with the Seminole Indians who help him and the forces of justice who fight him. In the end, Orlean-and the reader-will have more respect for underdog determination and a powerful new definition of passion.

Praise for The Orchid Thief:

“Fascinating . . . tales of theft, hatred, greed, jealousy, madness, and backstabbing . . . an engrossing journey.”

-Los Angeles Times

“Irresistible . . . a brilliantly reported account of an illicit scheme to housebreak Floridas wild and endangered ghost orchid . . . Its central figure is John Laroche, the ‘oddball ultimate of a subculture whose members are so enthralled by orchids they ‘pursue them like lovers. ”

-Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Artful . . . in Ms. Orleans skillful handling, her orchid story turns out to be distinctly ‘something more. . . . [Her] portrait of her sometimes sad-making orchid thief allows the reader to discover acres of opportunity where intriguing things can be found.”

-The New York Times

“Zestful . . . a swashbuckling piece of reporting that celebrates some virtues that made America great.”

-The Wall Street Journal

“Deliciously weird . . . compelling.”

-Detroit Free Press

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