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The Coffee Trader (Ballantine Reader's Circle)


The Coffee Trader (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Cover



Reading Group Guide

1) The Coffee Trader is a novel in which moral, ethical, and emotional choices are often bound up with monetary and financial

choices. How do financial dealings shape or define character? Does this novel suggest a relationship between financial dealings

and morality?

2) Miguel, the novels central character, often makes some questionable choices even though he regards himself as essentially honest

and upstanding. Do you think he is a good person or a bad person? Why do you think so? What about Geertruid?

3) Given the degree to which The Coffee Trader depicts merchants

tricking and deceiving one another, do you think trade on the

Amsterdam Exchange inherently deceptive, or is it simply trade in

which some people choose to behave deceptively? How do the

activities on the Exchange influence the lives of traders when they

are off the Exchange? Can merchants effectively rope off financial

deception as one aspect of their lives and behave ethically


4) How does the setting of this novel—Amsterdam and its various

communities and locales—affect the novel? How does the setting

influence the events, the characters? Is the setting familiar or

alien to you? In what ways are the lives of people in seventeenthcentury

Amsterdam familiar to you, and in what ways are they unlike

people today? What surprised you most about the way people


5) There are a number of people in The Coffee Trader who are out to

harm Miguel, or at the very least trick and manipulate him toward

their own ends. Given that virtually no one is truly trustworthy,

do you think that this novel has a central villain? Who? How

should villainy be defined?

6) Is Hannah a modern character in a pre-modern situation, or do

you think her view of herself, the world, and her options are

rooted in a particularly seventeenth-century perspective? What

exactly are her goals? How would a contemporary woman in her

situation respond?

7) Discuss the role of the Maamad in Amsterdams Jewish community.

What is the relationship between the Maamad and the

Inquisition in Portugal?

8) In his interview, the author mentions that this book was originally

going to center on chocolate instead of coffee. How do you

think it would have been different if chocolate had remained at

the center?

9) Discuss Miguels commitment to religious observance. What

motivates his devotion? Do you think of him as being particularly

religious? Does his attachment to worship and the Jewish community

affect how you feel about him?

10) Reviewers have called this novel a thriller, though it lacks

many of the traditional characteristics of one—no one gets killed,

people are rarely placed in physical danger. Is this novel a thriller?

How does it work to keep the reader anxious about the fates of

the characters?

11) Discuss the novels ending. Why do you believe the author

made the choices he did in the various resolutions of the

plot threads? Do these characters get what they deserve? Why or

why not?

12) How is the kind of financial deception in The Coffee Trader like

or unlike what we see in our own times? Is what happens on the

Amsterdam Exchange similar to scandals like Enron or World-

Com? Is the difference just a matter of scale?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Daniel Hatch, February 11, 2010 (view all comments by Daniel Hatch)
I've read this book twice now and really enjoyed the sights, smells (particularly the smells) and sounds of 17th century Amsterdam. The characters were interesting and the story compelling. I enjoyed not only the peek into the markets of the period, but the openess of Amsterdam to those shunned elsewhere.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(4 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

Liss, David
Ballantine Books
Mystery & Detective - Historical
General Fiction
Mystery Historical
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Ballantine Reader's Circle
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.02x5.30x.95 in. .72 lbs.

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The Coffee Trader (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 432 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780375760907 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

What grabbed me was the combination of historical atmosphere (Amsterdam during the time of Rembrandt) and a subtle sense of tension and intrigue in the plot line. The world's first commodities exchange and our present day Wall Street have much akin to each other.

"Review" by , "In his second novel, David Liss creates his own genre: the historical noir. The seventeenth-century Amsterdam he depicts is a wonderfully dark city of secrets, roiling with deceitful maneuverings and caffeine-fueled perils. The Coffee Trader is vivid, utterly absorbing, and more than a little relevant to our current age of financial skulduggery."
"Review" by , "Good to the last drop . . . Chock full of intrigue, suspense, and financial shenanigans . . . Liss transports the reader back in time . . . handl[ing] the seventeenth century and all the nuances of Dutch culture with utter ease. Whether it's his portrayal of the Maamad, the restrictive governing body of Miguel's Jewish community, or the complex characters appearing throughout the novel, The Coffee Trader is an excellent example of historical fiction in its finest form."
"Review" by , "[A] transporting tale of financial intrigue...[Liss?s] writing is smooth and elegant — like a good cup of coffee."
"Review" by , "David Liss has cornered a very narrow niche of the literary market — historical financial thrillers. And it must be said: He's quite good at it. . . . Lienzo's world comes to life in great (and frequently grimy) detail, and the workings of the Amsterdam bourse are eerily similar to modern commodities markets. . . . [The book is] more latte than espresso, and all the more enjoyable as a result."
"Review" by , "The premise and setting of The Coffee Trader is unique, with smaller-scale historical detail as richly rewarding as Liss's remarkable first work, A Conspiracy of Paper."
"Review" by , "[A] TRANSPORTING TALE OF FINANCIAL INTRIGUE . . . [Liss's] writing is smooth and elegant — like a good cup of coffee."
"Review" by , "Although The Coffee Trader lacks the narrative punch of Liss's previous novel, it will appeal to those interested in finance and sophisticated readers of historical fiction."
"Review" by , "The best moments of The Coffee Trader create a powerful sense of vertigo that's something like the vertigo of finance capitalism, where is there no end to the trading and no firm foundation, just an ever-receding spiral of value."
"Synopsis" by , Includes bibliographical references (p. [387]-389).
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