Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover

Title: The Jewel Trader of Pegu
Author: Jeffrey Hantover
ISBN: 9780061252716
Publisher: Harper Perennial/2008
Pages: 227

This novel is set in 1598 in Burma. A period and place, most of us know nothing about. Abraham is a 28 years old Jewish Gem merchant, who leaves Venice to seek his fortunes in Pegu, a Burmese kingdom. He is able to fit in the culture, yet follow his own faith. However, he is asked to do a task, that is to serve young brides so that they bring good luck into the families they are married, in exchange of his pursuits. This task is only performed by foreigners. He is revolted by it yet can't avoid it. He performs it without attachment and making is easy for the brides. Thus, he meets Mya, who is barely more than a girl. Next morning tragedy befalls on her and she ends up living under Abraham's protection. Eventually, both fall in love. All this time, there is social and political changes taking place, which affects them. And their future seems a distant dream.

Told in epistolary way, it speaks of people, places, culture, their customs and their way of living. Abraham describes all of his observations to his cousin in Venice. He makes it all come alive in his letters. It is a travelogue as well as a work of fiction, set in a time period that is not known to most. Yet, it is so vivid and makes us feel as if we are in the midst of it. Abraham denounces the custom, yet can't escape it. He also makes lasting friendships with local people. He can assimilate it and yet practice his own religion. His love for Mya has no boundaries. He can't leave her and go back to Venice. Mya is illiterate. But she too gets to say her thoughts and let us know her feelings about Abraham. Initially both speak different languages but eventually come to learn about each other.

This novel makes an impact and makes us question customs which are barbaric, yet looked up as fate. Such customs do exist in certain parts of the world. Historical or not, few things have not changed at all. This book is a serious read, meant for those who wish to know about new places, cultures and customs. And also about those emotions which can only become richer with time. Nothing can change that. A book well worth reading. Thanks Jeffrey, for the novel.

14 comments:

tea said...

Wonderful review! In novels, I love to read letters. I would write "epistalotory," but I always spell it wrong even after looking at it.

Beth F said...

Super review. I've been wondering about this book -- I'll definitely have to add it to my wish list.

Linda Jacobs said...

I'm intrigued and will be looking for it!

Your review sucked me right in! well done!

Amanda said...

I've never read anything about Burma. This sounds interesting.

infiniteshelf said...

This sounds great! I've never read about Burma either, but your review makes this sound captivating. I love learning about other cultures, even when it's not a light read.

Anna said...

Glad you liked it, too. It really does give you a lot to think about.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Alyce said...

I'm glad to see that you liked this one! I love the cover and the plot sounds very interesting.

Marie Burton said...

That is a great review. The book looks like something I would enjoy.. and reminds me of the book I just started "The Blue Notebook"

JoAnn said...

Sounds intriguing, and I love epistolary novels!

Staci said...

I loved your review. Sandy from Fresh Ink books recently reviewed this one also and after reading both of your thoughts this is one that I must get to this year!!

bermudaonion said...

I love epistolary books and this one sounds especially good. Great review.

debnance said...

Adding this to my list. My husband cuts gemstones, so this makes this book addedly intriguing to me.

Sandra said...

Great review. I just reviewed this one myself this week. I loved this story. I'd like to link your review on my post of it if you don't mind. Mine is here:

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

Teddy Rose said...

Thanks for the wonderful review! I added it to my TBR.