The arowana is a large, predatory fish popular in the aquarium trade (especially in Asia) as a status symbol. (Large for an aquarium fish, that is). The author, a science reporter, travelled to fish expos, visited breeders, collectors and dealers across Asia to hunt it down. First she was just trying to learn more about it- why were people so obsessed with this fish? what drove the prices so high? why is it considered endangered in the wild, protected and forbidden in trade, when so many thousands are being bred in ponds. This awful conundrum exists, where the scarcity of the fish drove up the demand, so more people wanted to catch the wild fish. When Voigt went searching for the fish, first just to see one swimming in a tank in someone’s collection, but then determined to find one in its natural habitat- she found a maze of conflicting information, deceptions and half-truths. A bit frustrating that she never did encounter the super red arowana, in spite of reaching the very swamps where it once existed in large numbers, and also never found the batik arowana (a beautiful fish, which I’d never heard of before) in the wild, though she did see two specimens caught and displayed in a tank. Switching focus at the very last, she finally succeeds in locating silver arowana in a tributary of the Amazon. This book is a whirlwind of travel, adventure, crazy circumstances, maddening beauacracy, and quirky characters.
And yet, it’s another book on a subject I thought I’d find enthralling, but ended up struggling to finish. The pages just dragged, and I ended up skimming so many of them. Is it just me? Something about the writing style perhaps, or the focus more on people and places than the fish itself (the author admits several times that she really fails to see why people find arowana attractive)- so many names scattered about, bits of history, on everything relevant from political turmoil in Indonesia to how goldfish were first domesticated and became the costly koi. There’s stuff in here about specimen collecting, nomenclature, and competition between scientists to be the first to name and describe species. Details about the aquarium trade that make me smile in familiarity, and others that make me shake my head in disblief! I just wish I’d liked it all better.
Borrowed from the public library.