Google+ Followers

My Blog List

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review Giles Milton's NATHANIEL'S NUTMEG

I liked the book first its cover - you get the nutmeg fruit in all its detail (not seen very often) and thenyou get all the background in color. The other thing is that Sri Lanka like these islands in the book was very much a target of the Dutch and the British in their quest for spices - in our case it was pepper and cinnamon mainly so this book drew me in.

A very comprehensive story - almost a history book - of the initial investigation for the spices which were so highly prized by Europe. The nutmeg was supposed to be effective against the sleeping sickness - the plague and however expensive it was and it was fabulously expensive, it was much sought after. In the East we take spices for granted having lived with them from the day we are born so it is amazing to watch the actual war that took place over these spices.

The stories start from the 16th and 17th centuries with the quest by Holland and England to seek a route to the spice gardens of the East. Apart from the known routes there were surprises. Explorers thought a way could be found through the Arctic, another thought of reaching it through the Americas going West. The loss of men and ships was immeasurable just by way of natural disasters as well as sickness. The lack of fresh water, the paucity of food, and the type of food available on ships meant that most of the time the crew were decimated even before half the journey was over. The attacks on ships by pirates, other countries and by the natives of the lands which they sought to conquer took care of the rest.

Was the loss of life and costs involved worth it ? obviously the goverments and Crowns of England and Holland thought so because most voyages had the patronage of the Crown. However what was interesting for me was the human angle to the stories - how this man or that survived, what happened to the single man who was left on an island - why did Madam Catriona write her memoirs of her travels only six decades after she left  the ship. I am sure there may be many more human interest stories there - the factors and their families who worked and lived on the Banda Islands - never going back to their home countries, those intrepid explorers who left families behind in their quest for the spices - those stories must surely be very interesting.

The tail end of the story focuses on Nathaniel Courthope who led an expedition to take over the island of Run completely covered with nutmeg trees. His attempt to assert the ownership over the Dutch failed.The Dutch then began a relentless assault against the British which culminated in Courthope's death. However the failure turned to triump when the Dutch came up with a treaty handing over the state of Manhattan on the other side of the world to the British in exchange for Run!

This was a good book for me and I will certainly never look at a nutmeg in quite the same way as before. I did not know that the nutmeg tree was brought from the Banda Islands where the islands were depleted of all their nutmeg trees so as not to allow the "other" side to have any benefit from the spice.  Those trees were transplated to Bencoolen, Singapore and Sri Lanka where it was planted and did very well.


Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

What an interesting story! I know only that Columbus' "discovery" of the Americas came about as a result of Spain's quest for a shorter route to the Indies for .. spices. Definitely one I'll keep my eye out for!

Mary said...

I like the sound of this one and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I agree, the cover is really wonderful!

chasingbawa said...

I've known about this book for a while but haven't read it. I'm glad you liked it and your review has certainly piqued my interest!