Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review: The Coffee Trader

The Coffee Trader The Coffee Trader by David Liss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed the book, I wanted more from it. This was not as tightly written as the other Liss novels I've read. It took a little bit to get going, in part because of the convoluted plot. Looking back, Liss was trying to throw you off the scent of the different machinations and schemes, but in the sequence of reading, it was more meandering than I would have liked. I also wanted more of the transition of the Sephardic Jews from Portugal into the Amsterdam culture.

I liked Miguel and Hannah got more interesting as the book went along. Alferonda is intriguing. But the other characters where a bit too much of a caricature. And I didn't think the book did sufficient justice to the internal governance of the Jewish community or to the economics of the commodity market. Not that the portrayal was wrong as such, but it seemed simplistic and myopic. The Jewish community leaders were paranoid mini-despots. And there was no sense of the importance and value created by the market and the exchange--it was all just speculative paper pushing and inherently deceptive. Everyone in the book is marred by some kind of deceit or betrayal. The protagonists either had good motives in their deceit or did their betraying by accident, to be sure, but no one was truly heroic.

This sounds like a harsh review, but in the end, I found myself enjoying the book. It picked up towards the end as the schemes of the characters started to come to fruition. And, as a lover of coffee, it was interesting to read the characters first responses to this strange new drink.

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