Sunday, June 29, 2008
The Coffee Trader
I read this because my husband really enjoys David Liss's writing and suggested I might like it. I rarely read anything he does (because I am not interested in all the ins and outs of wars, how to be a spy or navy seal, or how differences in Teslas improve MRI imaging), but I thought this might be a great crossover book - give us something to talk about at the table.
This is a manly book. The narrator follows Miguel Lienzo, a Portuguese Jew living in Amsterdam during the 17th century, who had escaped the Inquisition and now trades future commodities on the Dutch stock exchange. Miguel has lost all his fortune in the sugar trade and is currently living in his brother's damp basement, but has recently been introduced by an independent and ambitious Dutch widow to a relatively unheard of commodity: coffee. However, the Ma'amad, a ruling council of Jews, forbids all Jews from meeting with the Dutch in public (only one of many, many outlandish rules), which forces Miguel to create an intricate web of deceipt to carry out his ultimate goal of cornering the market and creating a European coffee monopoly, an act which would ultimately would make him a very, very rich man.
Ethics questions abound throughout the book as Miguel, the Ma'amad, the Dutch and all of society manipulate the rules in order to accomplish their own personal goals. At what point of these manipulation does the line of morality get crossed?
My husband liked the book because it contains a thriller-like tempo in regards to trading futures. Yes, I did just include the word "thriller" in a sentence describing economics. Who would have thought?
Well...David Liss did, and it sort of works. He manages to write the desperation and anxiety exchange trading involves, and even manges to write about the complexities of such a market without being overly technical or vague. However, in the end, it was still a novel about economics...and that, apparently, is one more thing I'm not interested in reading about.