Synopses & Reviews
In the heart of New York City, hidden in the back room of an old Laundromat, are nine rare and valuable plants. Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
tells the story of this legendary garden, and the distance one woman must travel—from the cold, harsh streets of Manhattan to the lush jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula—to claim what is hers.
Lila Nova lives alone in a plain, white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lilas life is like her home: simple, new, and empty. But when she meets a handsome plant-seller named David Exley, an entire world opens up before her eyes. Late one night Lila stumbles across a strange Laundromat and sees ferns so highly-prized that a tiny cutting can fetch thousands of dollars. She learns about flowers with medicinal properties to rival anything found in drugstores. And she hears the legend of nine mystical plants that bring fame, fortune, immortality, and passion.
The owner of the Laundromat, Armand, presents Lila with a test: if she can make the cutting from a fire fern grow roots, he will show her the secret of his locked room. But Lila is too trusting, and with one terrible mistake she ruins her chance to see Armands plants. The only way to win it back is to travel, on her own, to the Yucatan.
Deep in the rain forests of Mexico, Lila enters a world of shamans and spirit animals, snake charmers, and sexy, heart-stopping Huichols. Alone in the jungle, Lila is forced to learn more than she ever wanted to know about nature—and about herself. An exhilarating journey of love and self-discovery, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire brings together mystery, adventure, and heat, in every sense of the word.
"Berwin delivers a bangup debut packed with adventure, betrayal, love and, naturally, rare plants. New York ad woman Lila Nova, increasingly disillusioned with her job and the city, becomes enchanted by David Exley, a handsome guy selling plants at a green market. Soon, she's hooked on him, and her budding fascination with tropical plants leads her to a Laundromat that has a rare fern displayed in the window. Proprietor Armand quickly befriends Lila and gives her a trimming from the fern to take home, telling her if it forms roots, he'll show her the nine special plants he keeps in the back room. When Exley sees the fern trimming, Lila tells him about Armand's special plants, and soon the plants have been stolen and Exley has disappeared. Armand guilts Lila into coming to Mexico with him to find replacement plants, and there's magic, romance, greenery and greed as Lila and Armand venture through the Yucatan, hooking up with potential love-interest Diego and running into the devious Exley. It's a fun page-turner escapist and wonderfully entertaining. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] shameless guilty pleasure of a romp....An adventure combining the kinetic, cinematic razzledazzle of a Spielberg fantasia with the Mesoamerican metaphysical mojo of Carlos Castaneda....[A] sultry, psychedelic summer soufflé of a read." Elle
"Margot Berwin is equal parts fabulist, botanist, and comedian. I learned a lot from this delightful novel, and now I know just what to do the next time I confront a rattlesnake, a scorpion, or a strange but wise plant man in a Laundromat." Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives, The Double Bind, and Skeletons at the Feast
"Nearly impossible to put down. This refreshing novel has an almost comic book sense of high adventure. Strange and improbable, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire is unswervingly fun to read." Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward
Eat, Pray, Love
meets The Orchid Thief
in this rollicking debut novel about plant magic, spiritual discovery, and romantic fever in the jungles of Mexico.
Shortly after her divorce, advertising executive Lila Nova purchases her first plant. It's a bird-of-paradise, and the seller is David Exley, a rugged "country-sexual" who seems to promise a paradise of his own making. Lila is immediately obsessed — with plants and with the man who sells them — but when David introduces her to the myth of the nine plants of desire, and when she meets a man named Armand who claims to own the nine plants, her obsession reaches unexpected heights: if she can possess all nine plants, the legend goes, her wildest dreams will be fulfilled.
But Lila is too trusting, and as a result she is soon off on an adventure she never meant to take: in the Yucatán, alone, hefting a backpack full of travel guides and expensive shampoo, and learning more than she ever wanted to know about the rain forest — and about herself.
Plant mythology, shamans and charlatans, mysterious spirit animals, orchid obsessives, scorpions, poisonous snakes, and handsome Huichols...they're all here in this tale of mystery, adventure, and
heat — in every sense of the word.
This rollicking debut novel about plant magic, spiritual discovery, and romantic fever in the jungles of Mexico follows a divorced advertising executive on an adventure she never meant to take in the Yucatán, alone, learning more than she ever wanted to know about the rain forest and herself.
About the Author
Margot Berwin earned her MFA from the New School in 2005. Her stories have appeared on Nerve.com, in the New York Press, and in the anthology The Future of Misbehavior. She worked in advertising for many years and lives in New York City with a killer collection of plants.
Reading Group Guide
1. Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
has been described as Eat, Pray, Love
meets The Orchid Thief
. Have you read either of those titles and do you agree with the comparison? What other works did the book remind you of?
2. What do the nine plants of desire stand for? What do you think about Berwins choices for the plants and their properties? What plants would you choose for your legend and what would they represent for you?
3. What do you make of the tenth plant, the passion plant with no name? What is it symbolic of and what role does it play in the book? Why do you think passion isnt one of the nine original desires?
4. Before each chapter, Berwin includes a short introduction—an explanation of a plant or an idea or an occupation. Did you enjoy these chapter headings? Did they add to your ‘experience of the chapter to come or of the book as a whole? Which were your favorites?
5. Lila, like all of us, is a combination of many qualities—both cautious and adventurous, she shows herself to be greedy but also regretful about the damage she causes. What did you make of Lila as a character? Armand says that she is one of the few people hes met who is capable of change. Did she change throughout the book? Is that the point of her adventure, or does she become more who she always was?
6. How did the symbolism of the black panther develop throughout the book? What role did it play in the commercial Lila creates, in her dream before she leaves for Mexico, and in her realization that the panther is her spirit animal?
7. Armand seems very sure of himself and open to the world at the same time. He is giving and spirited; he is serious about listening to people but also pokes fun at their problems. What did you make of him as a character? Do you think he invents stories to serve his purposes? How much the part of a puppeteer does he play, desiring for himself the passion plant with no name to give to Sonali? What does his role in the story say about how much we can trust each others motives?
8. At the end, Lila finds the snake is inexorably linked to Exley. Did his hearts desire to be rid of the creature surprise you? What is the difference between Berwins panther nature and Exleys snake core?
9. Berwin creates memorable supporting characters, most notably Kody and Sonali. How do they both act as foils to Lila and Armand? What kind of philosophy do they have about the world? Sonali, Armand says, is a flower person, while he and Lila are root people. What is the difference, and how do you see it in the other characters and in your own personality?
10. So much of the book is about relationships—Lila and Kodys friendship, Lilas attraction to Exley, Sonali and Armands marriage, Lila and Diegos affair. What role do mating rituals play in the book? How does plant life (such as the sinsemilla and the gloxinia) play a part in mating, and what does Lila learn about herself and her relationships—her own marriage, her attractions?
11. What did you make of the character of Diego? Does he represent a native wisdom lost to those who leave the jungles and stray from knowledge of the earth? Where do you see Lilas relationship with Diego going?
12. Armand is a fountain of philosophical advice, as is Diego: “you miss half your life always looking down”; “The tropics can happen anywhere . . . theyre a state of mind.” What did you take to be the philosophical tone of the book? How did it help propel the story along, and did Lilas own philosophies shift over the course of her adventures?
13. The movie rights to Hothouse Flower were bought by Julia Roberts. The book combines adventure, mystery, and romance in a dangerous, lush, and breathtaking setting—did you think of it as a movie as you were reading? Do you think Roberts should play the part of Lila? Who would you cast in the other roles?
14. Hothouse Flower is bursting with plant life. What is your own experience with plants—do they play a role in your life?
15. The Laundromat that Armand runs is a completely magical place—have you ever seen a place like it where you live or anywhere youve traveled? What is it like, and how did you discover it?