Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover - Review

The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover

Historical fiction, 227 pages, Paperback

Harper Collins
(December 30, 2008)

Abraham is a devout Italian Jew of the sixteenth century. He travels to strange and exotic places as a jewel trader for his uncle's business. No matter how far from the eyes of fellow worshippers or in what circumstances he find himself, he continues his morning prayers and religious rituals. He deals honestly in business and tries to be kind and tolerant even in unusual circumstances. When he reaches the Burmese port city of Pegu in 1598 he expects to remain the man he is. But a shocking stumbling block to his faith will be put squarely in his path and how he handles it will affect his being tolerated in this strange kingdom and how well he will do in business. He struggles fiercely against compromise for some time.

Told entirely through the daily letters home to his beloved cousin Joseph, it is at once an adventure and a compelling story about what is really important to us. How far would we would go to experience and keep true love? When the pressure to follow the local custom of deflowering young brides to bring luck to the families becomes intolerable he reasons with himself "The law and my heart must be one. How could I follow my heart and betray the law and still call myself a Jew? But how could the law demand I betray my heart? I would be lost if I had to do either." The Jewel Trader of Pegu is not about sex as some have imagined. It's about the moral dilemma of a man who wants to do the right thing. The choice Abraham makes will change his life forever.

This is sensitive story telling, often with profound philosophical or spiritual insights into the differences of religion, culture and social customs. Abraham slowly realizes that it's not really his place to judge these people who tattoo their legs with grotesques images, or scar their faces and blacken their teeth. He is surprised to find himself beginning to view their customs and Buddhist thinking in a different light. Though he will be happy to finish his uncle's business and leave for home. Then war, along with looting and reprisals threaten the town. All other foreigners have reasonably fled for home but Abraham has suddenly and unexpectedly found, in a young widow named Mya, a reason for staying and risking everything.

This is one of the best novels I've read this year. A gem of a story, I give it five stars and my highest recommendation.

Jeffrey Hantover's web page

Thank you to Danny Goldstein at Harper Collins for the review copy.

Also reviewed at:

Devourer of Books
Everything Distills into Reading
Bleeding Expresso

I welcome questions, comments, dissenting opinions, or links to your reviews of this or any book discussed on this blog.

Any followers who comment before midnight Monday July 27 qualify to be entered to win my gently read copy of this book. Please indicate that you wish to be entered and that you are a follower.

*Added on July 28: The winner is teabird.



  1. wow...this book sounds absolutely wonderful. Its going on my wishlist. Thanks for the review. Love the cover too.

  2. I read this book several months agao and also enjoyed.
    So enjoy learning while reading and learned much about this time and the treament of those of the Jewish fate.

  3. This was a powerful book, wasn't it? It sure gave me a lot to think about. Great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  4. Wow, I really want to read this one after your review. I think my mother would enjoy it too.

  5. I'm always fascinated by novels about Jewish people in - well - novel places in history. Or just in history. I recently read People of the Book - so interesting - I'd love to be considered for your giveaway!

    teabird17 (at( yahoo (dot (com

  6. Sound fabulous. Thanks for the super review and for adding to my wish list.

  7. Terrific review. This has been on my list, but I think yours is the first review I've seen of it. It sounds great.

  8. I haven't read this one yet, but now that Anna and you have raved, I might have to give it a shot.

  9. I have heard of this one before, but for some reason was a little afraid it would be dry. From your review I can tell it isn't that! I would love to read it.

  10. You have impeccable taste in books so I'm going to read this one for sure. I like that it's told in daily letters sent home. I love that style of writing!!

  11. It sounds captivating. Thanks for the great review Sandra!

  12. Please enter me for the giveaway (which you snuck in there) but I Wanted to really say that your review was very well done. A 5 star read also! This looks very interesting and it seems your commenters concur, so I would love to give it a try also.

  13. Wow. I had the opportunity to review this and passed on it- now I think I made a mistake! Great review Sandra. I'm glad you liked it so much.

  14. This sounds like a really interesting read set in a place and time that doesn't get much coverage in Historical Fiction.

    I am not sure if you are prepared to post overseas or not. If you are, then I would like to be entered into the draw for this book. I follow you through Bloglines.

  15. No need to enter me as I have read the book. I just wanted to say what a wonderful review you wrote. It really does the book justice. This is a fabulous book that makes you want to read other books either about the time period or the location.

  16. Great review. I would like to be entered in the giveaway. Sounds like a really good read.


  17. Your review and endorsement certainly make me eager to read THE JEWEL TRADER... It sounds like historical fiction at it's best. Thanks for the chance to win a copy and, yes, I am a Follower.

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  18. This sounds like a wonderful book. And such a good review - telling enough to make you curious without telling too much. Please enter me in your contest.

    I follow you with Google Reader.


  19. Great review. I would love to be entered. Thanks for the chance.


  20. I am a new follower and would love to win this book, it sounds like a good read.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com



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