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The Jewel Trader of Pegu: A Novel

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  295 ratings  ·  70 reviews
In the autumn of 1598, Abraham, a melancholy young Jewish gem merchant, seeks his fortune far from the imprisoning ghetto walls of Venice. Traveling halfway across the world, he lands in the lush and exotic Burmese kingdom of Pegu—an alien place, yet one where the jewel trader is not shunned for his faith. There is a price for his newfound freedom, however. Local custom ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published December 30th 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2008)
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Dorie  - Cats&Books :)
This is a debut novel. A young Jewish man from Venice sets sail for the West Indies to trade jewels with the people there and traders from other islands. This is an extension of the family's business in Italy.

Vivid descriptions of the West Indies, the people, customs and religion. One of the tasks that Abraham is called upon to do is to initiate new brides, that is to sleep with them before their marriage. It is a great honor and said to bring great beginnings to a marriage. As a Jew this is, of
Will Byrnes
Oct 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! This book is a feast of the senses. The writing is magnificent, drawing you in from the first.

Hantover lets the reader share his vision of stars, the scent of offerings in the temple, the sound of chimes, stirring breezes among tropical vegetation and all the beauty discovered by the protagonist on his journey of self-searching among the gentleness and political intrigue of the Buddhist kingdom of Pegu.

A few of the gems of writing from the book:

Music floats from a hidden courtyard, as if
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Farhana Faruq
Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A Jewish trader from Venice goes to South East Asia for business. Nothing happens! There is no story, Abraham is the drabbest character I've had to read about in a while. The story is told through letters he writes to his cousin, I didn't particularly enjoy that style of writing.

Overall...go read a different book...haha
Erin Clark
This is a sweet story of a broken man, Abraham who becomes whole again with the new found love of Mya, a Peguan peasant girl. She comes to his home to be 'deflowered' by a foreigner before her wedding night, a great honor for these people. As luck would have it her husband to be is killed and she ends up just staying on with Abraham, and eventually falling in love with him.
I enjoyed learning about the history of this tumultuous time, the vicious, insane King, the jewel trade of the times and all
H Gibson
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Usually I hate books that are open-ended, leaving it up to the reader to decide the outcome, but Jeffrey Hantover does a brilliant job with his novel. The story is told between dual POVs - Abraham's letter's to his cousin and Mya's commentary. The history and culture are perfectly blended with the tale and draws the reader ever deeper into the characters' conflict. The ending is bittersweet and beautiful. I highly recommend The Jewel Trader of Pegu.
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a beautifully written book. The descriptions of the time and places were well done. I loved the characters and the relationship between them was amazing being that they were from different religious backgrounds and beliefs. The love expressed in this story was so poetic and beautiful. I never thought I would enjoy this book so much.
Interesting story with the different perspectives expressed from each of the main characters. Even though they were very different in background, beliefs and lives, they were friends and respected each other. I enjoyed see him realize that he was a person that had value.
The book started a bit slowly for me, but made up for it in rich descriptions of long ago lands. It is an interesting exploration of humanity and faith that is timeless. While it takes place at the end of the 16th century, the lessons are ones unchanged by time.
Oct 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super interesting local over near my part of the world. Never read about that part of the world so I liked it for that. Nicely crafted
Feb 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
P.D.R. Lindsay

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
Mar 05, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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 love
Jessica (thebluestocking)
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.
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 07, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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.
Jennifer Kim
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
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Feb 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Sep 25, 2011 added it
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.
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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.
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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