I love bananas. No lie. Alone or as a garnish, a flavoring, a thing to heft, a television trope. In slapstick comedy, in the lowbrow, on the bunch or alone. Without bananas what would we split? We’d have no banana boat song, my third favorite Woody Allen movie wouldn’t exist (well maybe, but it would have been under another title, though undoubtedly less fun), and that incredible 1997 Jenny Piccolo album that shaped so much of my attitude in my teenage years, Information Battle to Denounce the Genocide, would never have been possible without the installation of vicious dictatorships in South America made possible by American corporate moguls seeking to get rich off of, yep, bananas!
Oh, but that last part is actually impossibly tragic isn’t it? Through no fault of the banana itself, the exotic fruit has found itself a lucrative placeholder in the world economy. It’s not necessarily the sort of thing we find ourselves chatting about at whatever local watering hole all that often, but once or twice in a while book is printed on the matter of bananas, their history and trade, because as is the nature of any commodity powerful enough to shift the global market, powerful and dangerous men are drawn to it, involving in business of stately highs and grim lows. Bananas feed good stories, or so it seems.
Rich Cohen (Sweet and Low, Tough Jews) has penned another odd tale of American History, the somewhat biblically titled The Fish That Ate the Whale. It’s the rare story of Samuel Zemurray, America’s banana king, who made his home here in New Orleans while conquering the world of international fruit trade. While I missed the galley myself (I was slogging through the 200+ pages of cruel dismemberment that garnishes the middle part of 2666 at the time and bananas would have been inappropriate to have on my mind), the mix of international relations, corporate intrigue, local interest, and flat out insurgent violence makes promises for compelling reading. Cohen has been known to cover tales such as these blending skilled research and a clever sense of humor. I’m looking forward for my next chance to pick it up, and even more so for my chance to broach the topic publicly. Where is the venue for this conversation?
Nate Martin over at Room 220 has been kind enough to read and proffer a fine piece of review on Cohen’s book. Look HERE if you are further interested. Recommendations come in high.