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Reviews of The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

The Monk of Mokha

by Dave Eggers

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers X
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2019, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the best-selling author of The Circle and What Is the What, a heart-pounding true story that weaves together the history of coffee, the struggles of everyday Yemenis living through civil war and the courageous journey of a young man - a Muslim and a U.S. citizen - following the most American of dreams.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali grew up in San Francisco, one of seven siblings brought up by Yemeni immigrants in a tiny apartment. At age twenty-four, unable to pay for college, he works as a doorman, until a chance encounter awakens his interest in coffee and its rich history in Yemen. Reinventing himself, he sets out to learn about coffee cultivation, roasting and importing.

He travels to Yemen and visits farms in every corner of the country, collecting samples, eager to improve cultivation methods and help Yemeni farmers bring their coffee back to its former glory. And he is on the verge of success when civil war engulfs Yemen in 2015. The U.S. embassy closes, Saudi bombs begin to rain down on the country and Mokhtar is trapped in Yemen.

Prologue

Mokhtar Alkhanshali and I agree to meet in Oakland. He has just returned from Yemen, having narrowly escaped with his life. An American citizen, Mokhtar was abandoned by his government and left to evade Saudi bombs and Houthi rebels. He had no means to leave the country. The airports had been destroyed and the roads out of the country were impassable. There were no evacuations planned, no assistance provided. The United States State Department had stranded thousands of Yemeni Americans, who were forced to devise their own means of fleeing a blitzkrieg—tens of thousands of U.S.-made bombs dropped on Yemen by the Saudi air force.

I wait for Mokhtar (pronounced MOKH-tar) outside Blue Bottle Coffee in Jack London Square. Elsewhere in the United States, there is a trial under way in Boston, where two young brothers have been charged with setting off a series of bombs during the Boston Marathon, killing nine and wounding hundreds. High ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the Saul Bellow epigraph that opens The Monk of Mokha. How does this paragraph set the tone for Mokhtar's story?
  2. Mokhtar grows up in the Tenderloin, one of the most notoriously crime-ridden neighborhoods of San Francisco. How does he navigate that world as a young man? How does the neighborhood color his perspective on the world? His understanding of himself? Of poverty? Once he leaves the neighborhood, how do the lessons of the Tenderloin stick with him?
  3. On pages 18–19, the reader learns that despite his general apathy toward school, Mokhtar loves books. Describe how Mokhtar's "library" acts as a means of escape for him. How do books open up his worldview? How does his love of learning ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Dave Eggers is an engaging storyteller with a flair for dramatic moments, and his biography of Yemeni American entrepreneur Mokhtar Alkhanshali combines a well-paced series of heroic misadventures with fascinating coffee facts. The narrative spans continents, cultures and centuries to explore the history of coffee and to describe current events in Yemen. Mokhtar is characterized as a complex, modern Sinbad the Sailor, venturing far to make his rags-to-riches dream come true...continued

Full Review (678 words)

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Gabriel Thompson, San Francisco Chronicle
Exquisitely interesting… This is about the human capacity to dream—here, there, everywhere.

Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post
A true account of a scrappy underdog, told in a lively, accessible style… Absolutely as gripping and cinematically dramatic as any fictional cliffhanger.

Paul Constant, Los Angeles Times
[E]very biography is a kind of love story between the author and their subject. And if Eggers leans a bit too heavily on the over-earnest mythologization of an American citizen with deep Yemeni roots during the disastrous Trump presidency, who — really — could blame him? Eggers is using his formidable literary powers and cachet to amplify the stories of victimized people in a moment of crisis — and he's doing so in the form of a gripping, triumphant adventure story. If more breakout literary sensations parlayed their celebrity into meaningful acts of citizenship, maybe kids like Alkhanshali wouldn't have to struggle quite so hard to find a place in the world.

Tim Adams, The Guardian
Mokhtar’s tale, for which Eggers makes himself the conduit, starts out as a story of the frustration of second-generation immigrant assimilation and becomes an anecdotal history of coffee culture and practice. It ends as a kind of breathless thriller as Mokhtar braves militia roadblocks, kidnappings and multiple mortal dangers in order to get his first coffee samples to a producers’ conference in Seattle, the make or break for his business. In some senses, particularly at the outset, you wonder if this narrative would work best as a brilliant long-read magazine article. However, as it goes on, as Eggers explodes Mokhtar’s tale to book length, with all the detail that implies, you start to understand his wider purpose. He is anxious to put not only Mokhtar’s story on the page, but somehow Mokhtar himself, all his hopes, all his obstacles. Look at this extraordinary American, Eggers’s attention says. And more to the point, look at him at this particular moment; give him some proper time; no story is more urgent.

Kirkus
Starred Review. Eggers gives his hero a lot of thematic baggage to carry, but it is hard to resist the derring-do of the Horatio Alger of Yemenite coffee.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Breathless, Unexpected and Mesmerizing Journey About Coffee
It's a good thing this book is nonfiction. If it were a novel, no one would believe it! The author would be excoriated for creating an absurd and preposterous plot line and told to tone it down. A lot. But this isn't fiction. It really happened. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Yemen's Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman

Tawakkol KarmanIn The Monk of Mokha, there's a scene in which Mokhtar is assigned to be a translator for visiting Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, who is guest lecturing at UC Berkeley Law School. Tawakkol is the first Yemeni woman, in fact the first Arab woman, ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was honored for her nonviolent activism during the Arab Spring (known in Yemen as the Jasmine Revolution). She won the prize in 2011, sharing it with two other women: Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Mrs. Leymah Gbowee, credited with leading the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, ending a long civil war there.

Tawakkol Karman was born in 1979. She studied at the University of Sana'a (Yemen's capital city), became a journalist, and...

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Read-Alikes

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