Book Review: The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

03.26.2018

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @la.vida.zara

bk - monk of mokha

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Category: Biography / Memoir
Author: Dave Eggers
Format: Hardcover, 334 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-735207449-5
Pub Date: January 30, 2018

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Summary from Publisher:

Mokhtar Alkhanshali grew up in San Francisco, one of seven siblings brought up by Yemeni immigrants in a tiny apartment. At age twenty-four, unable to pay for college, he works as a doorman, until a chance encounter awakens his interest in coffee and its rich history in Yemen. Reinventing himself, he sets out to learn about coffee cultivation, roasting and importing. He travels to Yemen and visits farms in every corner of the country, collecting samples, eager to improve cultivation methods and help Yemeni farmers bring their coffee back to its former glory. And he is on the verge of success when civil war engulfs Yemen in 2015. The U.S. embassy closes, Saudi bombs begin to rain down on the country and Mokhtar is trapped in Yemen. This is a heart-pounding true story that weaves together the history of coffee, the struggles of everyday Yemenis living through civil war and the courageous journey of a young man–a Muslim and a U.S. citizen–following the most American of dreams.

  • From Goodreads

Book Review:

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers is a chronological memoir about a young man whose gift for gab and knack for survival renders him on an unbelievable journey towards self-discovery and financial independence.

And while it is as much a story about the life and career of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a restless boy with little privilege who must work his way out of trouble through his sheer talent of diplomacy and negotiation, and who later grows into a young man that lands a position as an amicable and diligent doorman at a luxurious condominium that houses the rich and affluent—it is also a story about Mokhtar’s serendipitous discovery of the history of coffee and its connection to him and his cultural, Yemeni heritage.

Dave Eggers, best known for his clear writing, writes with clarity and objectivity about Mokhtar’s ambitious and serendipitous climb towards success. And while his journey is almost unbelievable in its scope from its humble beginnings as a boy with no aspirations or plans except towards unexpected trouble, to the magnitude of a what a man must overcome in making his dream a reality, Eggers writes Mokhtar Alkanshali’s story without lyrical fanfare.

The story, too, is not only a story about Mokhtar and his passion for philanthropy and business; it is also a story about coffee—its origins, its proper cultivation, its varietals, the process of its tasting, its graded quality—and a way in which it could be made into a valued commodity for Yemeni farmers without the interference of ignorance in its proper cultivation, or the presence of loan sharks and distributors who take advantage through unfair profiteering in a war-torn country.

It is, in essence, a story about a man’s passionate resilience to make a dream come true, not only for himself, but an entire nation—a righteous quest to bring underrated, Yemeni coffee to the forefront of top-quality production and sales worldwide.

This, from a young man with no relevant knowledge of coffee itself, its production, its quality, nor any connections with its money-making industry.

The Monk of Mokha, tells without fanfare, the fantastical story of a young man whose sheer will, a gift of gab to encourage and convince, as well as barrels of what seems to be unbelievable good luck, can do—and does—to slowly, but miraculously become an expert in coffee quality until he becomes a certified Q Grader, to travelling to the deepest,  most remote, and dangerous places in Yemen during its war crisis to personally meet Yemeni farmers to sample their coffee seedlings, and teach them the forgotten history of Yemeni coffee, and how to best produce high-quality coffee beans, as well as inform and empower them to make better profits.

Mokhtar takes upon himself a mission to restore Yemeni coffee to its highest quality, while empowering local Yemeni farmers to become stronger and financially independent, and introducing quality Yemeni coffee to an unknowing, global community. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, is able to, through his tough and almost obsessive passion for Yemeni coffee and true love for his cultural heritage, create a Yemeni coffee empire, which would otherwise remain unknown, dormant, or non-existent.

All this, from one man.

And Dave Eggers records this with meticulous objectivity. While the book itself may not be exhilarating in its narrative, the story of a man who could have lost his life on several occasions and is able to survive on extremely slim odds amidst reckless war and violence, is a tale worth telling—and reading.

The context of coffee in the book is even more fascinating. As an enthusiastic coffee drinker and coffee lover, I was surprised by what I had not known and what I had learned about coffee, its origins, its history, and its production, and its quality until I read about it in The Monk of Mokha.

For coffee lovers alike, this book will be an uplifting surprise.

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Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 3 stars
Dialogue: 3 stars
Pacing: 3 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Alfred A. Knopf for providing me with a copy of The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

dave eggers

Dave Eggers is the author of ten books, including most recently Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, The Circle and A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books, a quarterly journal of new writing (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), and a monthly magazine, The Believer. McSweeney’s also publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. Eggers is the co-founder of 826 National, a network of eight tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization designed to connect students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible. He lives in Northern California with his family.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with the author, Dave Eggers on Goodreads.

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Book Review: Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen

05.30.2017

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zaralibrary

bk - meet me in the in between

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Category: Biographies & Memoirs

Author: Bella Pollen

Format: E-book via NetGalley, 336 pages

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2658-0

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

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Summary from Publisher:

Growing up the middle child of transatlantic parents—her English Rose mother and cowboy boot-loving father—Bella Pollen never quite figured out how to belong. Restlessly crossing back and forth between the boundaries of family and freedom, England and America, home and away, she has sought but generally failed to contain an adventurous spirit within the confines of conventional living.

When she awakes one morning in an existential panic, Pollen grudgingly concludes that in order to move forward, she needs to take a good look at her past. In Meet Me in the In-Between, Pollen takes us on the uproarious journey of a life, from her privileged, unorthodox childhood in Upper Manhattan through early marriage to a son of an alluring Mafioso, to the dusty border towns of Mexico where she embarks on a border crossing with some Pink Floyd-loving smugglers. Throughout all, Bella grapples intently with relationships, motherhood, career ups and downs, and a pathological fear of being boxed in.

Interwoven with exquisite original illustrations by the award-winning Kate Boxer, this is a tender, funny, and poignantly honest story of one woman’s quest to keep looking for the extraordinary in an ordinary life. Reminiscent of Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Pam Houston’s Cowboys are my Weakness, novelist Bella Pollen has created an endearingly naughty and intoxicatingly humorous, dead-on look at what it means to be a modern woman.

  • From NetGalley

Book Review:

While it can be difficult to review a memoir or a biography because it’s written in the context of someone’s personal life and experiences, rather than fiction, a memoir or biography can be entertaining as fiction, if written well, and gives its readers the opportunity to know the writer better, both in the events he or she shares about her his or her life, or how he or she perceives them in the way the author writes.

Bella Pollen’s biography, Meet Me in the In-Between, shares the oddities of herself and her family, right from a supposed incubus, a male demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women, to a drunken South American caique whose reactions to an black afro wig reveals him to be a white supremacist.

And that’s only the beginning of the book!

While these stories in of themselves are odd, almost seemingly fictional, and seem entertaining enough to incur a raised eyebrow of interest; the writing style of the narrative, while not necessarily poorly written, are distracting enough because the writing seems over-written.

Pollen, however, is quick in her sarcasm and wit, her agility in name-calling and comparisons, as well as her blunt insights, which tend to tumble out is great spurts, easily classifying her as a troublemaker, of which the author seems easily proud.

Even the description of her mafia-style husband and family is painted with almost deliberate animation and volume.

The accompanying illustrations in the book, too, add a welcome aesthetic and a window to the author’s canny imagination.

If you have time to read a 336-page memoir of the crazy antics in the life of a woman whose writing is both wacky and stream-of-consciousness, then this book is for you.  

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Characters: 3 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 3 stars

Dialogue: 3 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an e-copy of the book, Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and timely review.

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About the Author:

author - bella pollen

Raised in New York , Bella Pollen is a writer and journalist who has contributed to a variety of publications, including Uk and American Vogue, The Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the Observer.

Author of five previous novels, including the best selling Hunting Unicorns and critically acclaimed Summer of the Bear, Pollen has tackled a broad spectrum of subjects from Cold War intrigue to decline of the British Aristocracy to the immigration issues of the US/Mexican Border.

With Meet Me in the In-Between, an illustrated memoir, Pollen takes us on her illuminating, funny and often painful quest to keep looking for the extraordinary in an ordinary life.

Pollen divides her time between London and the American mid-west.

  • From Goodreads

Links:

You can connect with Bella Pollen on her official website, on Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Zara

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