Feijoa: A story of obsession and belonging

Kate Evans, Moa Press, $39.99

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“I often feel torn between two great tidal forces I’ve come to call ‘the hearth and the wild’,” science journalist Kate Evans writes in this history-slash-memoir, her first book. Feijoas, she realises, represent both: “a deeply local symbol of home, a fruit I liked to eat on the deck after kindy with my kids, and yet a plant whose story stretches across oceans.”

Perhaps that’s why, of all the myriad topics Evans is fascinated by, she chose to chase “the people’s fruit”, somehow squeezing in a years-long international quest around both a young family and her usual journalism work (such as writing for New Zealand Geographic).

Tracing the feijoa’s whakapapa takes her to a remote grove of gnarly old trees “draped in moss and lichen” in southern Brazil; to the bowels of the Berlin Natural History Museum; to a small-town feijoa festival in the tropical Andes; to a sweaty, manic search for a slice of botanical history on the French Riviera. Near a small playground in downtown Cannes she finds one of the oldest feijoa trees she’s ever seen. Deep in Te Urewera, she chases a story of Tūhoe growing feijoa way back in 1908, so early in the plant’s history here it barely seems plausible. She can’t stack it up. But that’s not the point.

Like all the best science journalism, Feijoa is an account not just of the fruit but of the people who, like Evans, find themselves fixated on it. Plant collectors, growers, chefs—“feijoa people”, she calls them. Gathered together, they give the book a vivid, meaningful zest.