From the Publisher
Praise for The Ghosts of Medak Pocket, winner of the Dafoe Book Prize:
“A first-class account . . . her prose is lively and her tone impassioned.”
–The Globe and Mail
Praise for The Lion, The Fox and the Eagle:
“This is an explosive look at what really happened in the failed peacekeeping missions in Sarajevo and Rwanda.”
Read an Excerpt
In the Garden of Good and Evil
“In my dreams I gorge on chocolates, I roll in chocolates, and their texture is not brittle but soft as flesh, like a thousand little mouths on my body, devouring me in fluttering small bites. To die beneath their tender gluttony is the culmination of every temptation I have known.”
–Joanne Harris, Chocolat
The broad highway leading out of the city of Abidjan is marked on the map of Côte d’Ivoire as a principal two-lane thoroughfare, but with the city behind us, it narrows quickly and degenerates into a potholed road no wider than a driveway. Tangled vines and shrubbery encroach on both sides of our vehicle while we push through what resembles a dark, leafy tunnel. Constant precipitation–a perpetual cycle from warm mist to torrential thundershowers to steam–seems to stimulate new jungle growth before my eyes.
Koffi Benoît is at the wheel on this excursion into the unknown. He’s an unflappable Ivorian, and I would trust him in any situation. Ange Aboa is our principal guide into la brousse, as he calls it–the bush. Ange is a reporter for the Reuters news agency and spends much of his time in Côte d’Ivoire’s backcountry trying to make some sense of the murky, muddled world of African business. Together, we travel west out of Abidjan, deep into the tropical forests and remote farm country that stretches for hundreds of kilometres towards the Liberian border. Our mission is to seek out the truth about Côte d’Ivoire’s most precious commodity, cocoa.
My two companions know the bush country well, but they are perpetual strangers here where people trust only their own clans. We need help from local residents if we are to penetrate the walls of history and vegetation and probe the mysteries within. In a small village, we meet up with Noël Kabora, a seasoned pisteur who travels the tiny pistes, or back trails, every day as he makes his rounds of farms, gathering sacks of cocoa beans from the farmers. Abandoning the relative comfort of Benoît’s Renault for Noël’s dilapidated truck, we turn off the highway and head deep into the bush. Ange has moved to the back of the truck to chat with some local people while I sit in the cab with Noël. Benoît decides to stay behind and have tea with some newfound friends.
Nearly half of all the cocoa in the world comes out of this humid West African jungle and eventually finds its way into the confections that enrich the diets and the moods of chocolate lovers around the world. The bonbons, truffles, hot chocolate, cookies, cakes, ice cream sundaes and the ubiquitous chocolate bars; the sweet morsels that ostensibly say, “I love you” on Valentine’s Day, “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Birthday,” the Halloween treats; the Easter eggs–thye started the long journey into our stomachs and our ceremonies here in this tropical hothouse. Yet I could not be farther away from those cherished ceremonies of life, the pageants of celebration and happiness in the developed world, than I am driving along these rutted paths through the jade-coloured forests of Côte d’Ivoire.
Noël points out the cocoa groves tucked in among the tall banana trees, the mangoes and the palms. Exotic green, yellow and red cocoa pods, the size of butternut squash, cling precariously to the smooth trunks of the trees called, in Latin, Theobroma cacao – “food of the gods.” Farmers lop the ripe pods from the bark with machetes and split them open to harvest the riches within: dozens of grey-purple seeds the size of almonds embedded in pale tan-coloured pulp. Through the bushes, we can see the racks and mats where the contents of the pods are piled up to ferment for days in the humid heat, producing a marvellous alchemy in which the seeds steep in the sweet, sticky juice from the pulp while sweltering in the hot tropical sun.
Micro-organisms in the fetid pile go to work, stirring into action about four hundred different chemicals and organic substances that magically transform a bland bean into the raw material that is the essence of the world’s most seductive sweet After five or six days of malodorous mulling, the beans are then laid out on racks to dry. This delicate series of operations, augmented by manufacturing techniques, has made chocolate addicts out of millions of people around the world throughout history. Children invest meagre allowances for just a bite of it; some women say they prefer fine chocolate to sex; and modern science claims for chocolate myriad potential health benefits, from reducing cholesterol to boosting libido. Chocolate is the embodiment of temptation. It creates a mysterious addiction, which, in turn, sustains a vast international trade and an industry with a seemingly insatiable appetite for raw product. For their survival, the captains of the chocolate industry depend on these remote farms and the pisteurs who make daily excursions into the bush, gathering sacks of carefully fermented and dried cocoa beans.
Noël expertly navigates a mind-boggling road that seems at times to disappear completely. He points towards the tops of hills where groves of cocoa trees grope for sunlight and comments knowingly on the quality of each farmer’s produce, noting the ones who have perfected drying and fermenting and castigaing those whose beans are always dirty. From time to time, we can see a little one-room schoolhouse or tiny chapel surrounded by the poor mud houses of the people who cultivate “the food of the gods.”
Farmers in this region have been growing the world’s cocoa for a relatively short time–since the 1970s and ’80s, when Côte d’Ivoire’s benevolent dictator and founding father, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, realized that this fecund farmland could grow a botanical equivalent of gold. He wanted to transform his post-colonial country, just reclaimed from France, into the economic engine of West Africa. In the 1960s Houphouët-Boigny announced that he would turn the jungle into Eden and everyone who lived here would enjoy the fruits of their own labour. The creationist vision worked and, for a time, Côte d’Ivoire became arguably the most profitable and stable country on the continent, mostly through providing the world with cocoa. All that has changed.