Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: The Jewel Trader of Pegu

Summary: In the autumn of 1598, Abraham, a melancholy young Jewish gem merchant, seeks his fortune far from the imprisoning ghetto walls of Venice. Traveling halfway across the world, he lands in the lush and exotic Burmese kingdom of Pegu—an alien place, yet one where the jewel trader is not shunned for his faith. There is a price for his newfound freedom, however. Local custom demands that Abraham perform a duty he finds troubling and barbaric . . . and thus Mya, barely more than a girl, arrives to share his bed. Gently banishing his despair, awakening something profound within him, Mya ultimately accepts Abraham's protection and, unexpectedly, his love. But great social and political upheaval threatens to violently transform the Peguan empire—with devastating consequences for Abraham and Mya and their dreams for the future. -- Harper Perennial

I have been on a major historical fiction book kick lately, and I love that I've read so many terrific ones in the past few months. I can now add THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU by Jeffrey Hantover to that list. This novel is relatively short (about 225 pages) but it packs a powerful punch. To me, THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU is first and foremost a beautiful love story; however, I was also blown away by the characters' wise insights into religion, love and spirituality that occurred throughout pages of this book.

THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU is Mr. Hantover's first novel. I am so impressed with the story he created, as well as his beautiful prose -- so much of this novel read like poetry to me (which makes a lot of sense since Mr. Hantover spent many years writing poetry.) It seemed as if each word in this novel was selected to elicit a particular response. I found that he captured the essence of the Burmese empire of Pegu extremely well. I was easily able to picture the look and feel of this city as well as its various inhabitants.

I also appreciated how Mr. Hantover told this story primarily through the use of letters from Abraham to his cousin. I found it fascinating that his research on this time period showed that Venetian Jewish men wrote letters to their fathers on a daily basis, and that he was able to incorporate this knowledge into the very basis of this novel. I also appreciated the chapters about Mya and her story. Since she was uneducated and illiterate, Mya told her story in first person narrative. Both of these writing methods were very effective in developing these characters and their loving relationship.

I think THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU would make a wonderful book club selection especially if your group really likes to delve into religion, love, and other spiritual issues. This book definitely raised a lot of interesting ideas in my mind that would make for an excellent discussion. There is a reading guide available with quite a few intriguing questions as well. I absolutely loved the P.S. Section in the back of the paperback version. Included in this section were an interview with the author and "The Story Behind THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU." Both of these things provided so much more insight into the novel for me, and I feel they truly enhanced my reading experience.

I love reading wonderful stories while also learning something about history. While many of the historical novels that I read are based on stories real-life people, THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU is not one of them. The time period and places are very authentic, but the characters are created by the author. The idea of different types of historical fiction led me to think about which type I prefer. I'll admit that I'm not really sure -- I think I like a good historical fiction novel regardless of whether the characters are real. Do you have a preference on the type of historical fiction books you prefer to read?

A big thanks to Danny at Harper Collins for sending me this book.

7 comments:

Ti said...

I love historical fiction. This sounds like a really good read. I also like to hear about new authors. Thanks for the great review.

bermudaonion said...

I can't believe how fast you're reading these day! Great review, as always.

Wanda said...

Thank you for the great review. This book has been on my radar for quite some time and your review clinched it. I will be ordering it on Tuesday from B&N along with some others. Thanks so much!

Alyce said...

I love the cover of this book! The plot sounds really good too. I'm happy to see that you enjoyed it.

S. Krishna said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one! I'll have to read it.

Anna said...

I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed this book. I'll be reading it soon.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Sandra said...

Nice review. I loved this book, it had everything, and fascinating history too. My review link is here:

http://freshinkbooks.blogspot.com/2009/07/jewel-trader-of-pegu-by-jeffrey.html