The Coffee Trader by David Liss

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Friday, Mar 5, 2010

A new, highly desirable, carefully controlled commodity is about to be introduced to Europe’s markets. Miquel Lienzo is a trader down on his luck, who believes this new gold –“coffee”- could re-establish his credibility – if he can find the funds necessary to carry out an audacious plan. But he must work carefully – he is a Portuguese Jew in 17th century Amsterdam, in cahoots with a Gentile woman of uncertain character and under the surveillance of the less-than-benevolent Ma’amad, the governing council of the Jewish community.

A thoroughly enjoyable historical read – evenly-paced, suspenseful enough to carry the story forward, believable characters, plenty of hidden agendas, surprising plot twists -- set in 17 Century Amsterdam. And that is what I liked best – the setting, and the opportunity to experience the immigrant Jewish community, just barely tolerated by the Dutch government, poking its finger in the eye of the Spanish & Portuguese Inquisitors. Author Liss uses the reminiscences of an outcast to provide background info on the cast of characters; on life as a Jew of the Diaspora; on the Ma’amad, the powerful council who govern the Jewish community (to keep as low a profile as possible, so as to not draw unfavorable attention). Lots of history – trade and finance, political, religious --- with some surprisingly contemporary shenanigans in the marketplace. And maybe I grasp commodity trading just a little better now...

Written by Kathy B.