cover image Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls

Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls

Stephen G. Bloom. St. Martin's Press, $27.99 (382pp) ISBN 978-0-312-36326-0

In 2003, author and journalism professor Bloom (A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America) embarked on a journey ""to track a single pearl"" from the ocean floor to the string on a woman's neck. Over 30,000 miles and ""four hectic globe-trotting years"" later, Bloom concluded that the task was impossible; still, he had succeeded in tracing the pearl industry across history and through cultures, profiling a motley crew of divers, sorters, pearl lords, and others along the way (including a woman even more obsessed than Bloom, who believes pearls speak to her in spiritual messages). Bloom travels to spots like the Philippines; Australia; Kobe, Japan (""known worldwide as Pearl City""); and the Chinese hotspots currently giving Kobe a run for it global business. In China, Bloom learns the fascinating technique by which farmers seed a single large, fresh-water mussel to generate as many as 50 pearls at once, nearly identical in quality to much more expensive Kobe pearls. Average readers may find more than they ever wanted to know on the subject, but anyone who's ever dreamed about a string of black Tahitians will be enchanted.