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Book Club: The Coffee Trader

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Article by Sondra Grace

coffeeIt may have been Venetians who introduced coffee to Europe, but it was Dutch merchant Pieter van den Broecke who smuggled coffee bushes out of Mocha (Yemen), and the Dutch East India Company that cornered the coffee market and supplied it from plantations in Java and Suriname.

David Liss sets his historic novel The Coffee Trader in the rough and tumble commodities market of seventeenth century Amsterdam. One would have thought that Tulip Mania would have put an end to wild speculation, but here we are little more than twenty years later and again fortunes are being made, lost, and made anew in frenzied deals. When we first meet rakish trader Miguel Lienzo he is living in his brother’s dank basement and ruing the day he put all his chips, and those of others as well, on sugar. We follow his machinations in the following pages from rags back to riches. Liss delivers an enjoyable tale of plot and counterplot, underpinned by good research and well-developed characters, pious, whorish, duplicitous, roughish, and downright nasty.

We met at my house, a converted café. None of the “brown” remains, but there was on the night plenty of the wide-ranging conversation and general gezelligheid emblematic of such places, and rich coffee, of course.

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