The Jew­el Trad­er of Pegu

Jef­frey Hantover
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

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.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

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