Aug 28 | To beet, or not to beet

I know that it’s not Wednesday anymore, but I needed something nice and relaxing to end this day, so I finally finished my review of this book I already talked so much about in other posts. Please forgive me for posting this on a Thursday. I promise to get better. 🙂

So this “Bookworm XYZday”, it’s all about “Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins. Published in 1984, this amazing novel covers more than 1,000 years between its innocent looking pages. And it has it all, folks: love, sex, some kind of rock’n’roll, drugs, religion (several kinds of religious orientations, in fact), history, science, geography, some borderline magic and mystical things. And beets.

Since beets are among the things I love to eat, this book had to be on my reading list, of course. Beets: delicious, underestimated, and still kind of unsexy to most. Who on earth writes a book that starts with beets? And incorporates them into the main plot? Interesting.

After I had to write a letter to a “word” I discovered in one of my books during Writing101 in June, the lovely Jen mentioned “Jitterbug Perfume” in a comment over there. And off to the library I went, to embark on a literary journey like no other before.

Let’s start with a quote. “An old Ukrainian proverb warns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”” A great proverb (no idea whether it’s real or not), followed by a entertaining, temporarily bizarre, definitely unique and slightly crazy story about “the most intense of vegetables”.

Somewhere between the 8th century and 1986, and between Seattle, New Orleans, Paris and Bohemia, beets find their way into bedrooms, onto doorsteps, into offices, centerpieces, by mail, by messenger, by someone, here and there. The story evolves around the quest for longevity and immortality, various countries, cities and centuries, a scent, certainly a fair share of love, and always… beets. The main characters are all over the world (and all over the ages), before they finally meet in the end (spoiler: the book kind of leaves that out).

Seattle: Someone leaves beets for Priscilla. She’s a (hidden?), slightly sloppy genius who turns her living room into a perfume lab at night after her shifts as a waitress. Despite being into aroma chemistry, she’s also searching for the perfect taco.

New Orleans: Someone leaves beets for V’lu. She’s the assistant (and maid) of perfumer and small business owner Madame Lily Devalier. First only V’lu, later also Madame are pretty obsessed with some kind of perfect scent from a mysterious bottle. Jasmine, hurricane drops, food and Mardi Gras also make an appearance.

Paris: Someone leaves beets for Marcel, also known as “Bunny”. “Bunny” and his cousin Claude run a family-founded perfume empire. Marcel loves wearing a whale mask, and Claude loves Marcel’s sense of smell which is crucial for the success of their business.

Bohemia (eventually; we start out there before it is even Bohemia): Someone leaves a…. ahem… no. King Alobar reigns over a folk of beet eaters. Unfortunately, they apparently kill their king upon the first signs of old age. After finding his first gray hair, Alobar takes off. And we follow him through this book and the world on his quest for longevity and individualism. He gets pretty good at outwitting death, let me tell you that. He also finds out that the world is round, and that the Kama Sutra is an excellent book (with a little help from an Indian “girl” named Kudra who we also get to know better while reading).

Without telling too much, and without writing a summary that would probably be only slightly shorter than the book itself: I recommend this to anyone who ever thought about “What would be if we could live forever?”, who’s into ancient gods or science-religion-struggles, who wants to know more about Buddhism and breathing techniques and bathing, who would like to know where kissing came from, who’s into perfume making and bees, who believes in destiny and karma, who loves a good laugh and some freaky crazy storytelling. Plan in some time, because sometimes, you just have to put the book on your nightstand or coffee table to think a little about what you just read.

I didn’t find out all of these things, but some. And I learned a lot. Mainly that fantasy, if you have it and you use it to its full extent, is a speedboat with a lot of horsepower that can take you on an incredible journey, wind in your hair and all. In other news: Einstein had a janitor, the god Pan stole a wig at a French philosopher’s funeral, dematerializing is possible since what we see is not all that exists, zippers are “little alligators of ecstasy”, puns are intentional. And you don’t necessarily have to like beets to read or like this book. You just have to be open-minded and a little adventurous.

The multitude of perspectives makes it an interesting read and keeps your gray matter busy. However, you are kept in the dark about certain things so long by this technique that I would definitely not recommend this book to you if you’re the type of reader who frustrates easily. It takes time. But it all comes together oh so wonderfully in the end (after 352 pages with a smallish print, at least in my version). Once the big unraveling of all the golden threads starts, it all falls into place.

I will most likely try to read more of this author, he got me hooked on his unique style, and I want to see if it’s consistent.

What about you? Did this review spark your interest? Or did you find it confusing?

Thanks for sharing an honest opinion, I appreciate it!


Jitterbug Perfume_1st Edition_Cover




  1. I adore beets…the lone beet lover in my family. And a good friend loves Tom Robbins…so I guess I’m going to have to give it a go. I’ve never heard of this one, but I do love a trip to the library!


    • I am not sure whether I aimed for confusion or not, but this is kind of the effect the book had on me. 🙂 Good that it sparked your interest though! And I also have to admit that this review, although I really wanted to do it, was way more complicated than the two before it. Most likely due to the book itself, it’s very dense and complex (and weird). Good training for me. 🙂


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