The Coffee Trader, by David Liss

I first heard of David Liss while listening to a program on either MPR or NPR – I can’t remember which. In any case, they were discussing his forthcoming new book, The Twelfth Enchantment, and I was intrigued. At the library not long after, I went to see which of Liss’ books were in the collection. They had several, and I chose The Coffee Trader, one of his older works, figuring if I liked it I could work my way up to his more recent novels.

Indeed, I liked The Coffee Trader. It was perhaps a little more simplistic in style than the books I’ve read recently (i.e. the poetic language throughout White Oleander), but overall it was an interesting piece of historical fiction surrounding the introduction of coffee into major European markets in the mid-1600s. The plot itself was interesting and tense, but the characters fell a little flat. The main character, Miguel, was not fully fleshed out, and as a result I felt little connection to him. Hannah, Miguel’s sister-in-law, was an intriguing character, however, as a woman divided in many areas of her life: duties as a wife vs. attraction to Miguel; desire to be a meek wife vs. desire to learn; the Catholic faith of her childhood vs. the abrupt revelation of her true Jewish heritage. Alferonda is another interesting character – he is neither good nor evil; having been wronged by his community, he has made the most of his life and become a puppet-master of sorts. The plot delivers twist after twist until the very end, making it an exciting and compulsive read. I read it in two days; it is by no means a difficult read.*

I’ll be returning to the library for more of Liss’ books in the future.

*Especially if, like me, you skim over the economics parts that explain the Dutch stock exchange in the 1650s.

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