“Stranger in a Strange Land” has been the epithet for Jews since the time of Abraham; never more so than the protagonist of this novel. In the late 16th century, he (also named Abraham) travels from Venice to the tiny Southeast Asian kingdom of Pegu to purchase gemstones for his uncle’s business. Through his letters home, we see this strange, exotic paradise juxtaposed against the drab world he had known. But the Jews are strangers in Venice as well, and we see at a distance the disdain and contempt of that Christian city.
Faced with a culture unlike any he could have even imagined, with his Torah in one hand and Dante’s Divine Comedy in the other, Abraham must almost daily reevaluate his own morals, his place in the tiny community and the larger universe, and what it means to be a good person.
The Jewel Trader of Pegu is a little gem (pun intended), with adventure, suspense, and romance. The writing is lush and lyrical, yet clear, descriptive, and a pleasure to read. Jeffrey Hantover has given us a very different sort of historical romance. Hand drawn map.