NOTE: This post was written by my husband, Tony Wheeler, who read and reviewed the book for this site’s purposes.
I work in an industry that holds skeptical views of self-publishing. We need gatekeepers (publishers) to ensure that the market isn’t flooded with low quality products (books). After all, if anyone can publish anything on the Internet, how are we supposed to sift through all of the junk to find the gems? Such is the power of democratizing publishing. However, the Internet, through its democratizing power, does allow almost anyone to review a book. After all, I don’t need a publisher to decide for me whether a book is worth a read. Such is the power of democratizing book reviewing. Why this preamble (that my wife will surely want to remove)? While I am skeptical of self-published books, I usually have openness to opportunities. My wife asked me if I would review a book for her blog that was self-published by John Butziger. It is titled The Second Tree.
What’s the book about, I asked? Food, good vs. evil, and Uganda. Huh? Can you read it, my wife asked? So I did. Democratizing book publishing and reviewing. Here’s my review.
Short review: It’s good. I liked it. You should buy it.
One-sentence review: The book tells a story as old as the devil tempting Adam and Eve with a forbidden apple but in a layered and compelling way.
A production team from a cable television channel visits Uganda to explore the local cooking scene. While traveling between towns and farms, the on-air host of the show, Martin, falls out of truck, tumbling into a ravine. Concussed, injured, hungry and thirsty, Martin stumbles into a hidden valley that is filled with fruit trees he’s never seen. Seemingly hallucinating, Martin awakes in the morning to find himself back on the road, neither hungry or thirsty, and completely healed. Yet in the pockets of his cargo pants, Martin finds several specimens of the fruit that helped get him through his ordeal.
Martin heads back to Manhattan, where he hands off some of the fruit specimens to a production assistant, Andrew, who he has befriended and mentored. So begins a multi-layered story of good vs. evil. Andrew wants a different life, a simpler life, a life he finds more meaningful than the one he currently lives. Andrew dislikes his job, he feels disengaged from his work, and has few friends. When Martin gives Andrew the exotic fruit, it gives Andrew a new purpose: figure out how to grow this tasty yet totally foreign fruit. As Andrew begins solving problems associated with growing the fruit, he begins to notice that the fruit itself has special powers. Not only does it taste spectacular, whether cooked or eaten raw, but he feels physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier as he consumes more of the fruit. He actually starts to heal faster as he eats more of the fruit. Once Andrew does figure out how to grow the fruit, he cannot keep up with harvesting the fruit. Soon Andrew realizes that he can commoditize the fruit, selling it upscale, boutique restaurants in Manhattan. It’s the life Andrew has always wanted.
Doing work he enjoys, creating healthy food, and working in his greenhouse. Everything local. Martin, his former boss and now business partner, however, sees the special fruit as a potential billion-dollar business. The healing power of the fruit can be packaged as a pharmaceutical and sold as the next “little blue pill”, wonder drug. This is the first layer of good vs. evil tension in the book. Andrew finds happiness and a good life in growing the fruit, caring for it, and selling it to only a handful of restaurants Manhattan. For Andrew, life is about doing what one loves, and allowing that to guide his decisions. For Martin, enough is never enough. More is always better, and this drives Martin to make decisions that affect more than just him.
While Martin’s and Andrew’s dynamic unfolds, a second layer of the good vs. evil story plays out back in Uganda. Local Ugandan miners come under attack from a group of mercenaries who want to see all foreign companies and investors leave Uganda. The mercenaries see western capitalism as a force of evil that will destroy their country. Keep everything local. The miners, mostly poor, just want to work to feed their families. They become trapped between the interests of the Ugandan nationalists and the international corporations, who can call upon foreign armies to combat “terrorism” in the mines. While this layer of global capitalism vs. local economies unfolds, the keepers of the Ugandan fruit learn that their precious fruit trees have been taken to America. Fearing that their mystical treasure will become part of global capitalism, they form a strategy to reclaim the fruit from the Americans.
Butziger threads these three layers of good vs. evil into a compelling narrative. In terms of writing style, Butziger paces the narrative with a Dan Brown kind of feel. He keeps the chapters brief but urgent. Yet, unlike Brown, I found Butziger’s character development more compelling. He lets you know the characters and from where they come. You learn about Andrew’s sense of morality, molded by the death of his parents. You learn about Martin’s narcissism and emptiness. You feel for the plight of the Ugandan minders, trapped between modernity and tradition. You even understand why mercenaries want to protect the mysterious fruit and their local ways of life, that violence is the last resort for people who feel disenfranchised.
When my wife first said, “self-published…food, good vs. evil, and Uganda,” I thought, no way! After reading this book, the first of a planned trilogy, I am glad that the Internet allows authors a place to find their voice. I look forward to John Butziger’s next book. In the meantime, I hope you check out The Second Tree. It’s a great read.
You can win a signed copy of this novel from John Butziger and a $30 Starbucks gift card. Use the Raffecopter for easy entry below. There are no mandatory entries. The more you do the more chances to win. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook. Winner must be 18 and older and US Only. Winner will be selected randomly through Rafflecopter. Giveaway ends 11/2/14 at 11:59pm.