The Coffee Trader by David Liss

June 18, 2008 at 8:58 pm 1 comment

“This coffee isn’t like wine or beer, which we drink to make merry or because it quenches thirst or even because it is delightful. This will only make you thirstier, it will never make you merry, and the taste, let us be honest, may be curious but never pleasing. Coffee is something…something far more important.”

This book is every caffeine addict’s wet dream. Sorry for that graphic image, but 386 pages of a high-stakes fictionalized historical account of how coffee came to Europe cannot be described any other way.

Every single character drinks, as well as sleeps and breathes, coffee. Coffee is described as this miraculous, almost magical, drink that makes failed men successful, virtuous men backstabbing, and submissive women full of spunk. The book has this kind of nervous, jumpy, impatient feel that makes me wonder how much coffee David Liss was drinking at the time – but the novel is all the better for it.

Unfortunately, the main character’s scheme to bring coffee to Amsterdam involves a financially risky and rather complicated set of plans to manipulate The Exchange, 17th century Amsterdam’s version of the stock market. This means a great deal of financial talk, a lot of complicated language revolving around “puts” and other things that totally went straight over my head – all three times I read it, so it’s not like I just read too quickly.

But if you’ve got the mindset for finance, the novel would probably be even better. Even if you don’t like finance at all, there are still plenty of interesting characters and historical idiosyncrasies to keep you amused. There’s a woman who grows up Catholic and discovers she’s a secret Jew, a Jewish man who lived through the Inquisition, a widow and her manservant who are both more and less than what they seem, and a very strange, possibly mad, Dutchman who inexplicably speaks Portuguese. And all of the above are connected by coffee.

David Liss has also written two other books concerning historical intrigue: A Conspiracy of Paper and A Spectacle of Corruption. Maybe if you have no interest in the stock market, even historically, these would be a better choice?


Entry filed under: Historical Fiction, Mystery.

Plain and Simple And for my next trick…

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