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The Jewel Trader of Pegu

3.23  ·  Rating Details ·  268 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
A melancholy young Jewish gem merchant, Abraham, born in Venice, has lived his life behind the ghetto walls of that damp, oppressive city. He has lost a wife and the son whose difficult birth killed her. Now there is nothing left for him there.

In the autumn of 1598, Abraham chooses to seek his fortune far from the painful familiarity of Europe and travels halfway across th
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Hardcover, 228 pages
Published January 2nd 2008 by William Morrow (first published January 1st 2008)
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Will Byrnes
Oct 15, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
In the late 16th Century Abraham is a trader in Pegu, in what today is a part of Burma. The format of the story is Abraham’s letters back home to his cousin Joseph in Venice. He describes his doings in the jewel trading business, offers observations of the local culture, and muses on comparative religion, as a Jew from a Christian world in a Buddhist society. One of the unusual aspects of the local culture is that they expect their brides to be deflowered by foreigners, and guess who is supposed ...more
Marvin
Nov 20, 2010 Marvin rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
A (mostly) epistolary novel, with letters sent from Abraham, a Venetian Jewish merchant from Pegu (in present-day Myanmar [Burma]) to his cousin/friend back in Venice. He has traveled there in 1598 to spend a year acquiring jewels for his uncle. He enjoys the freedom from the harsh constraints on Jews in 16th-century Venice. At first he passes judgment on what he sees as superstitious and barbaric practices of the Peguans, but he gradually comes to learn that things are more complicated than he ...more
Bonnie
On the plus side, this is the only historical fiction (or fictional, for that matter) book about Burma that I’ve ever read or come across. So, points for originality. And what Hantover has to say about life in the Venetian Ghetto and for Jews in Renaissance Italy may not be original, but is worth reading about.

But it is all so very tedious. Nothing happens. Abraham thinks and ruminates and thinks and ruminates and buys stones and sexes up virgins and…that’s about it.

Also, is this whole thing t
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Tony
Mar 06, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
Infused throughout with a gentle beauty I might easily have overlooked had the exotic locales & historical setting not pulled me in. Not being drawn to love stories in general, my enjoyment of this was surprising. Hantover's prose has a deceptively light touch, marking the contrasts between bliss & melancholy, contentment & fear all the more vivid. Reading this was - for me - no different than seeing a beautiful painting.

Michelle
Jun 03, 2009 Michelle rated it really liked it
The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover tells the story of Abraham, a young man from Venice who escapes the city’s ghetto and restrictions on its Jewish citizens in the fall of 1598. His work takes him to the Burmese kingdom of Pegu, which has a rather unique custom of asking foreign traders to deflower young brides (this, by the way, is historically accurate).

And so enters Mya, testing Abraham’s faith, good manners, and everything he believes in. Just when he thinks he has those things fig
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P.D.R. Lindsay
Sep 24, 2013 P.D.R. Lindsay rated it it was amazing

In the 1590s news reached Italy of the source of Asia's outstanding jewels. Sailors' tales were backed by samples and so Abraham, a dutiful and good nephew, is sent, by his Uncle, on the long and difficult journey from Venice, to trade for the jewels that will make their family fortune. And there begins the tale of Abraham and what happens to him in Pegu, a Burmese kingdom noted for its rubies, sapphires, and spinels. Pegu, ruled by the usual foolish autocratic king, was now at war with its neig
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Naeem
Mar 05, 2008 Naeem rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Lisa Loomis
I really enjoyed this novel and I feel a bit bad about the 3 stars, it is more like 3.5 stars -- but who is counting or measuring.

First thing: if you like John Burdett's 3 Bangkok novels, you might also like this one. Both authors use these novels to give us some insight into Buddhism, especially its virtues. But the there the similarities end.

This novel is set in the closing years of the 16th century. A widowed Jewish jeweler sets off from Venice and lands in Pegu (present day Burma). Its a l
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Jessica
Jul 29, 2016 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: review-copy
I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

This is a solid work of historical fiction. Hantover is clearly a talented writer. The story is very poetic and romantic - without being cheesy or erotic. Historical fiction can often come across as a research project with a few characters thrown in. Here, though, the historical elements are fascinating and mixed into the story with grace. I especially enjoyed learning about a culture that I knew nothing about.
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Julie
May 27, 2008 Julie rated it liked it
Recommended to Julie by: Powell's Daily Dose
The jewel trader of the title is Abraham, a Jewish merchant heading for the Far East in the late 1500s. The story is told mostly through his letters back to his cousin in Venice, recording the facts of his journey and his impressions of the exotic land where he is to spend a year. Increasingly he ruminates upon the restriction of Jews in Venice, and in particular his own unswerving loyalty to his family and religion, compared to his freedom in Pegu. His growing friendship with his trading agent, ...more
Nicolle
May 11, 2010 Nicolle rated it it was ok
I struggled to get excited about reading this book. I could compare it with Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist" - but for some reason I just was not as into this book. Could be that I downloaded the card game free cell on my phone and have been playing that instead of reading!! I did enjoy the book when I was reading it. The story is of a Jewish man from Italy who travels to Asia to make his riches through jewels in the late 1500's. His ideas of what is right and wrong are turned upside down by ...more
Elizabeth
Jul 26, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
Despite the interesting setting (a city in Burma) and time (1598, the same year as the first known performance of 'The Merchant of Venice'), I was a bit disappointed with this novel about a Jewish merchant from Venice who goes to Southeast Asia to conduct business and winds up getting caught in politics and love. The author seems almost more interested in his premise than in his characters, and both central characters -- Abraham, the title character, and his loved one Mya -- come across as stock ...more
Wellington
Apr 10, 2008 Wellington rated it really liked it

A Jewish widower named Abraham goes to Pegu to make some money trading jewels. He would find adventure, love, and answers to lifelong questions he didn't know he had. You hear Abraham's words through letters he writes to a relative. Quite touching and feeling somewhat ethereal.

At the same time, a young native girl is signed up to get married and the day of her wedding finds out her husband dies. She falls for the pale-skinned, hairy Abraham.

The characters really do grow and learn in the book. A
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Writerlibrarian
Slow paced but it fits the slow inner discovery of freedom that Abraham finds so exhilarating. This shadow of a man who slept walk through his life (his own words) finds his place at the end of the world at the turn of the 16th century.

The letters Abraham writes to his cousin Joseph take the reader through the long journey Abraham takes on from dutiful nephew going to the end of the world to trade for priceless jewels to free thinking man, alive and feeling every single beat of his heart and ev
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Jennifer Kim
Nov 01, 2010 Jennifer Kim rated it liked it
This is a beautifully written book. It takes me to a place I've never known and find it fascinating - such as the details about the bells, the tradition of the bride's wedding night, etc. But ultimately, the canvas of this book was too small. I wish this book had been longer with more of a variety of stories to tell instead of two or three main stories that centered around one theme (I don't want to give it away too much).

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about and
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Steve
Feb 24, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
This is a story about a Jew from Venice who travels to Pegu in the late 1500s to trade for jewels. This is a story of an emotionally closed person -- weary of the discrimination against his kind in Europe -- who opens up in response to an entirely different culture. This is a romance between this jewel trader and a native woman. Intricately, delicately written, rich in detail and cultural observances and contrasts, this books seems longer than it actually is (in a good way). You will no doubt ...more
Wrighty
Mar 07, 2008 Wrighty rated it really liked it
When I first read the description of this book I wasn't sure I would like it. I was in a bookclub online where the author joined us for a month and I'm so glad I did it. I really enjoyed the main characters journey and the strong friendships and love he found. I learned a lot about the different cultures and I really liked the characters. Having the author involved made it easier too because he answered so many questions and explained details and told us where the inspiration came from. I will ...more
Elaine
Feb 12, 2011 Elaine rated it it was ok
Shelves: jewish-theme
In reading the reviews of this book, I learned that the author made the sounds, sights and smells of this small Burmese country come alive. I didn't get that. It is written in the form of letters home, a style I admit I don't enjoy. I don't enjoy it because I do not get to really know the characters. It was a quick read, but when finished left me empty. It had some very beautiful sections, but I couldn't get into the story or the characters.
Heather
Jun 19, 2014 Heather rated it it was amazing
I wasn't sure at first how captivating the book was as it prefaces the book with the main character looking forward to an exciting adventure and the author nay saying the main character. However, Hantover describes the story as much more intricate than a chain of exciting events. Instead he travels through the struggles of living in a new land with different religious and culture differences. I would like to read it again!
Bookapiller
Mar 07, 2015 Bookapiller rated it liked it
Shelves: re-reading
. didn't choke up as much this time. I would say the story has a sad ending. Maybe we can tell ourselves that it is a fitting ending but it sort of does not feel that way. I Did think this was a moving live story at times, and was well researched. It is minimal when the writer is giving us the voice of Mya, who is an illiterate peasant woman. The writer says that his previous work in poetry helped him to find the voice for Abraham.
overall enjoyed it twice!
Eli
This book started off so strong, with a great premise. A 16th C. Venetian Jewish Trader travels the sea based silk route to the SE Asia in search of new goods. Well written very detailed, where the book got lost in the invention of the fictional kingdom of Pegu lacking details and connected historical references that are the hallmark of great historical fiction. From the middle all the way to the end this dragged the book down.
Alyssa
Aug 01, 2011 Alyssa added it
Although a little difficult to get into at first, I really ended up enjoying this novel. It was interesting to hear the different points of view from the two main characters, one written in letter form and the other in simple bursts of thought. I liked how social expectations were reviewed and scrutinized by Abraham, and how he grew as a person as his time in Pegu passed. I also loved the overall historical setting, not something that is covered in many history classes.
Rhonda
Oct 05, 2014 Rhonda rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, eloquent, descriptions depicting sights, sounds, tastes, smells and gorgeous lushness next to stark, harsh landscapes of a land long gone, mixing the Venetian Jewish lifestyles and the jungles of island tropics, jewels, spices, silks and war-torn blood-thirsty praying savages. Replete with maps and delicious details of life, love, religion and eternity gone in the blink of an eye.
ayrdaomei
Jul 28, 2008 ayrdaomei marked it as to-read
I'm putting this one back on my to read shelf, because I do want to finish it, but I'm not in the mood right now. It's full of these gorgeous descriptions of the land and people of Pegu, and I enjoy the author's style. But this strikes me as a vacation-kind of book - you know, the kind of book you read when you really want to be transported to another time and place - and I'm not game for that kind of a read right now.
Mary Jo
Mar 23, 2008 Mary Jo rated it really liked it
This was the story of Abraham, an Italian Jew sent by his uncle to by jewels in Pegu. I liked that the story was told through letters that Abraham writes to his cousin Jospeh...his story has a lttile bit of everything, adventure,forbidden love, treasure, oh and the story takes place in 16th century Southeast Asia. I enjoyed the telling of his tale.
Mahinn
Feb 25, 2011 Mahinn rated it really liked it
Part love story, part historical fiction, Jeffrey Hantover recreates 16th century Burma as experienced through a Jewish jewel trader from Venice. The undeniability of love, universal questions of faith, and ultimate truths of the human condition surface, creating a vivid, heartfelt backdrop. A delightful, engaging read.
Janine
Jul 10, 2012 Janine rated it really liked it
A very introspective and gentle story of a Venetian's awakening to life and love in 16th century Burma. Surprised by being seen as a worthy person in such a foreign city, he contrasts this freedom to the Jewish Ghetto, where he cannot look upon the fruit in the market for fear of contaminating it in Gentiles' eyes.
Vivian
Nov 27, 2008 Vivian rated it really liked it
This is Jeffrey Hantover's first book and its great! Set in the 1500's, an Italian ghetto Jew goes to Pegu in Berma to trade and find so many strange and wonderful things. Its a wonderful love story too and just full of insights. I can't wait for his next novel!
Marcy Heller
Feb 27, 2014 Marcy Heller rated it really liked it
The only thing I didn't like about this book was the prologue. If you read this, skip it. Interesting venue and historical perspective of international trade in the 16th c. told by a Venetian Jewish gem trader in what is now the East Indies.
Shana
Feb 26, 2008 Shana rated it really liked it
This is a very short, quick read and it is obvious from the first where it is going. But the language is heartbreakingly beautiful, and the questions that both Abraham and Mya ask themselves regarding faith, love, and fate are thought-provoking and well-worded, if not entirely unique.
Caryn
Sep 24, 2012 Caryn rated it liked it
I read this because it was written by someone I went to high school with. The setting is ancient Burma and it tells the tale of a Jewish trader from Venice who goes there to trade for jewels. The people he meets and the customs of the day (1598) were very interesting.
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Jeffrey Hantover was born and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from Harvard College, attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government and received a Masters in Sociology of Education and PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago. He taught sociology at Vanderbilt University, was the director of a national social service agency in New York, and held senior positions in labor ...more
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