cover image The Monk of Mokha

The Monk of Mokha

Dave Eggers. Knopf, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-94731-9

Eggers (Heroes of the Frontier) tells the exciting true story of a Yemeni-American man’s attempts to promote his ancestral country’s heritage, giving both a timely gloss on the traditional American dream and a window into the nightmare of contemporary political instability. The book first finds Mokhtar Alkhanshali as an ambitious but unfocused 25-year-old who has held a series of odd jobs in the Bay Area—including as a car salesman and doorman. He finds unexpected direction in 2013, when he learns that coffee originated 500-years earlier in his family’s native country, under the oversight of the titular Sufi holy man. This revelation sends him on an entrepreneurial quest to revitalize the long-dormant Yemeni coffee industry. Alkhanshali’s education in the coffee business provides a fascinating glimpse at how coffee is grown and processed today, but his path takes a startling turn in 2015 when Alkhanshali visits Yemen to make final importing arrangements just as the country collapses into civil war. The narrative turns into an increasingly surreal account of Alkhanshali’s efforts to elude imprisonment and even death in order to get the coffee-bean samples he has secured back to America. Eggers’s book works as both a heartwarming success story with a winning central character and an account of real-life adventures that read with the vividness of fiction. (Jan.)