Friday, 5 March 2010

Book review: "The Olive Route", by Carol Drinkwater

In her earlier books (such as the excellent 'The Olive Farm') Carol Drinkwater details her rather impetuous purchase of a decrepit olive farm in southern France, and the gradual restoration of the farm and the surrounding olive groves. In the process, she fell in love with the history and lore of the humble olive.

In this book, she attempts a journey around the Mediterranean on a quest for the oldest olive tree. The trials and tribulations of her journey, and the characters she meets, makes this book a vivid read. She displays a rather cavalier attitude to her own safety as she visits countries as varied as Turkey, Lebanon, Libya and Israel.

My own relationship with the olive is far from positive. I can scarcely walk past the olive counter at Waitrose without feeling nauseous from the sickly-sweet smell. I hate the smell and the taste. Part of this is undoubtedly due to lack of familiarity; as far as I can recall, olives were never around our kitchen when I grew up as a child, and my tastes are remarkably plain. Perhaps the delightful olive is a little too exotic for my northern European taste buds. As can be imagined, this causes a few problems with my Turkish wife, who enjoys wafting them under my nose just to see the reaction.

Despite this, the book was a real eye-opener. I remember reading the story of Noah and the dove bearing an olive branch, and the fact that the olive branch is an international symbol of peace. The book reveals aspects of history that I had never considered. Carol Drinkwater details this very well. Her journey reveals a rich history stretching back nearly as far as civilisation itself.

In some ways the book attempts a view of the history of civilisation through the history of the olive tree; an interesting idea that is not quite pulled off in totality. Yet it does show that the olive tree has had a massive effect on Mediterranean cultures, and therefore on world history.

I give this book four out of five stars. Read it with an olive resting in your favourite drink.

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