The Coffee Trader
By David Liss
If you want a good read about the 17th century Amsterdam financial world of trade, this is a great place to start. The Dutch trade market is responsible for creating a new standard of business with the joint stock company, commodities markets, futures, stocks, and other trading trends.
Author David Liss has taken this information and created a brilliant novel about the coffee trade in this market. The story follows Miguel Lienzo, a Jew (new Christian) who is familiar with trading but has not yet made his mark on the world. Miguel is a strict Jew who follows his religion by donating to the poor, attending synagogue, and attending his prayers. However, like any temptation, money is a lure, and Miguel is drawn into the market purely by happenstance to seek his fortune in the coffee trade.
However, many ruthless businessmen are seeking Miguel’s failure. Miguel is unsure of who some of his enemies are, and this is where the novel takes many twists and turns to determine who is friend or foe. Alonzo Alferonda is Jew turned Catholic and later finds himself exiled from the Jewish community. His friendship with Miguel goes back to his childhood.
Geertruid is a seductive thief, but working hard to make herself a pillar of the community. She aligns herself with Miguel by suggesting they enter the coffee trade together.
Joachim is a gentile and spurns Miguel for losing his life savings which Miguel lost on the market. Joachim is out to destroy Miguel, but Miguel has more significant problems as he is summoned by the Ma ’hammed elders who judge Jews who have broken Jewish laws.
Isiah Nunes will broker the coffee deal with the Indian Trade Company and secure the shipment of coffee. But the biggest obstacle to the coffee trade will be Solomon Parido, who is a member of the Ma ‘hammed. Parido seeks to impair Miguel on the market and ruin him financially and humiliate him publicly. This revenge is flamed by Miguel ruining his marriage to Parido’s daughter years prior.
And then there is Miguel’s younger brother Daniel, the two men share living quarters in a basement apartment. Daniel resents Miguel’s position on the market and has aligned himself with Parido. Thus the test between brothers who will test the ties of family.
There are a lot of factors that will contribute to the success or defeat of the coffee trade. Cash-strapped Miguel will learn not only how to manipulate the Dutch trading house, but also how much deceit has interfered with his calculations. Late shipments, insufficient funds and learning whom can be trusted will be critical.
The book is written with a level of suspense and I was glued to each page as I waited to discover who would win the coffee trade wars. Brilliant writing. I look forward to more from this author.