Category: Biography / Memoir
Author: Dave Eggers
Format: Hardcover, 334 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pub Date: January 30, 2018
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
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.
Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 3 stars
Dialogue: 3 stars
Pacing: 3 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars
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.
About the Author:
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
You can connect with the author, Dave Eggers on Goodreads.