“A Portuguese-Jewish trader partners with a sexy Dutch widow to corner the coffee market. Who knew 17th century commodities trading could be so suspenseful? ” These are the words of a helpful librarian as she did her part in recommending David Liss’s The Coffee Trader: A Novel. Several years ago, my public library began prominently displaying staff recommended books, each one flagged with an identifying bookmark inscribed with a one or two sentence mini-review. I’ve been quite pleased with my public library for doing this. Had it not been for their staff recommendations, I might never have read Julie Holland’s Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER or Lauren Slater’s Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir. Therefore, as I held Liss’s 2003 novel in my hands that day at the library I wondered to myself if I would end up liking another staff recommended book. Rest assured, after finishing it this morning at my local coffee shop I can tell you yes, I did.
Set in 17th century Amsterdam and just as advertised, it is the story of a Portuguese-Jewish trader, his coquettish Dutch business partner and their attempt to control Europe’s infant coffee market. However, just as you might expect from a clever and entertaining bit of fiction, there’s more to it than just that. Complicating trader Miguel Lienzo’s plans to corner the coffee market is Solomon Parido, a ruthless and influential member of the city’s Jewish governing council as well as a long-time enemy of Miguel’s. Allied with Parido is Miguel’s own brother Daniel, whose wife beautiful and ill-treated wife Hannah Miguel secretly longs for. Meanwhile, there’s also the shadowy Alonzo Alferando, an excommunicated Jew turned ruthless loan shark (a character fascinating enough to warrant his own series of novels) who’s taken a keen interest in Miguel’s business plans. Plus there’s no shortage of secrets, betrayals, shifting allegiances and plots twists.
Thanks to the good people at my public library I found an entertaining piece of fiction. After having good luck The Coffee Trader I’d like to read more from David Liss. His 2000 novel A Conspiracy of Paper sounds promising as does its 2004 sequel A Spectacle of Corruption. Maybe someday soon I will.