Monday, August 10, 2020

The Discovery of Coffee

The Coffee Trader, published 2003,
with coffee beans, which play a big role
in the novel, as they do in my daily life.
“It rippled thickly in the bowl, dark and hot and uninviting. Miguel Lienzo picked it up and pulled it so close he almost dipped his nose into the tarry liquid. Holding the vessel still for an instant, he breathed in, pulling the scent deep into his lungs. The sharp odor of earth and rank leaves surprised him; it was like something an apothecary might keep in a chipped porcelain jar. 
“‘What is this?’ Miguel asked.” 
So begins the novel The Coffee Trader by David Liss. In May, 1659, coffee was completely unknown in Amsterdam, where Miguel Lienzo was a speculator in commodities. His first smell and taste of a bowl of coffee was off-putting, but as the narrative proceeds he comes to love the beverage, which came by sea from far-off Asian plantations, and was served in a few taverns by Turkish immigrants. Moreover, Miguel decides to engage in a highly risky plot to manipulate the price of this new product in an effort to reverse recent setbacks in his business dealings and to make a fortune.

The Coffee Trader is a very entertaining historical novel, which I read some years ago, and which I just reread. I love learning about the Dutch Golden Age, with its remarkable painters, developing business climate, and its exceptional freedom for people of all faiths. I’ve been fascinated for a long time by the history of the Portuguese secret Jews who returned to Jewish practice in Amsterdam at that time. Miguel Lienzo and the people in his life belong to this very prosperous and closed-in community — his own father had been a victim of the Portuguese Inquisition, and Miguel and his brother had fled to Amsterdam. It’s a novel of intrigue and deception, and Miguel claims that having lived as a secret Jew made him outstanding in the practice of deception.

"In the Tavern" (1660) by Jan Steen could be an illustration for many of the chapters of The Coffee Trader.


Portrait of a young Jewish man, 1648,
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
The novel's detail of the Dutch drawing rooms and kitchens, of the food and drink, of the taverns and low-life dives, and of the streets of Amsterdam is vivid. Descriptions of rich men, poor men, scoundrels, thieves, con men, good women, scheming women, dictatorial Jewish leaders, financial geniuses, and many other characters are wonderful. Author David Liss portrays much of the society of that era -- with occasional indirect references to a painter who works in the poorer Jewish neighborhood (you know who he was).

The individual speculators on the Amsterdam exchange depicted in the novel are fictitious, but the facts of the invention of market speculation and the popularization of coffee as a beverage and of "coffee taverns" that served it are real. The author, in fact, is a historian who was writing a dissertation on economic history of that era when he reapplied his learning to writing fiction about his subject matter. I'm glad he did it.

Also, I'm glad for coffee, though Miguel Lienzo at one point regrets his role in introducing it to his society. His thoughts:
"May the Holy One, blessed be He, forgive me for unleashing coffee upon mankind... . This drink will turn the world upside down." (p. 266)

Blog post © 2020 mae sander. Paintings from WikiArt. 

23 comments:

Angie's Recipes said...

Sounds like a fun read!

Valerie-Jael said...

Very interesting. I'm glad coffee was discovered. Have a great week, Valerie

The Liberty Belle said...

Good post! Seems like it would be an enjoyable novel. Thanks for introducing me to it.

Linda Kunsman said...

Sounds quite interesting-thanks for sharing, and happy T day!

My name is Erika. said...

I just finished the Last Painting of Sarah de Vos. It is about art from the Dutch Golden Age. How you read it? I don't know this book but I bet it interesting-as it sounds it.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime (http://tandysinclair.com) said...

As I sit here, sipping my coffee, I'm very grateful for its introduction to the Western world.

Iris Flavia said...

I really have to stop reading your blog!!!!
That sounds like an awesome read :-) Help! I have too many books already!
Oh, boy, either I am half blind or your note is new? But since I´m at blogger, too, you should see who I really am, right?

My name is Erika. said...

I forgot to wish you a happy T day when I read this last night.

kathyinozarks said...

Good morning, thank you for the book review-I am off to check it out sounds like a good read. Happy T Kathy

Lisca said...

That sounds like a really interesting book. I searched for it but it doesn't seem to be available on Kindle or any e-book. What a shame. I am Dutch and learnt about our history at school of course.
Most Dutch people are tall and fair/blonde. In my family everyone is olive skinned, dark haired and short. From my maternal grandmother's side, we all look very Mediterranean. My grandmother got stopped very often during the WWII as they mistook her for a jew. So I think perhaps I have inherited these genes from a Portuguese ancestor. Who knows...
Happy T-Day,
Hugs,
Lisca

Mae Travels said...

Lisca -- when I checked amazon.com I did see a kindle edition of "The Coffee Trader" for $11.99. I think that several different editions may be listed separately, so if you are interested, maybe you could try again.

mae

creativeseconds.com said...

Sounds like a good read ~ Happy T day!

Let's Art Journal said...

Such an interesting post 😁. Thanks for sharing and wishing you a very happy T Day! Hugs, Jo x

Divers and Sundry said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I posted a video on FB yesterday about the problems coffee growers are having with global warming and the global economy. It makes me fear for the future of coffee :(

Happy T Tuesday!

Sharon Madson said...

This definitely sounds interesting! And what a perfect review for the T Gang. Happy T Day!

Eileen Bergen said...

It sounds like a wonderful book, Mae. Thanks for the great review.

Happy T-day and have a lovely week! Hugs, Eileen

pearshapedcrafting said...

Sounds Fascinating! Happy T day, Chrisx

Anne (cornucopia) said...

Happy T-Day! (I'm leaving a generic comment for everyone this week, because I'm very sore after each day's storm clean up efforts. Tropical Storm Isaias clobbered Connecticut US August 4, 2020.)

Kate Yetter said...

I have never read this book but and I am not a coffee drinker but your review sounds interesting. Love the painting.
Happy Tea Day,
Kate

CJ Kennedy said...

My Eldest loves coffee. She might enjoy this book. Thanks for the recommendation and Happy T Day

DVArtist said...

Wow what a great post. The book sounds very interesting and one I might look for. I had to stop drinking coffee due to osteoporosis. However, I had a cup yesterday and was in heaven. Or pretty close to it. Have a nice day.

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

If it was worth a second read to you then it is definitely worth a first read from me.

Divers and Sundry said...

This book looks right down my alley :) I do enjoy my morning cuppa. Happy Belated T Day!