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The Jewel Trader of Pegu    by Jeffrey Hantover order for
Jewel Trader of Pegu
by Jeffrey Hantover
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

A short but very beautiful work of fiction, The Jewel Trader of Pegu tells the story of a lonely Jewish trader, Abraham, sent by his uncle to the faraway land of Pegu somewhere in Burma at the end of the sixteenth century.

The purpose of Abraham's trip is to collect the fabulous jewels that were available in that part of the world. One traded for them, which meant that Abraham had to spend a considerable amount of time collecting them, trading lesser ones for better as they became available. While waiting for the time when he will have enough stones to satisfy his uncle, Abraham becomes knowledgeable of local customs, some of which are truly revolting to him. His meeting with Mya comes about as a result of his accession to one of the customs, and it is for him a life-changing event.

By letting the tale unfold as a series of letters from Abraham to his cousin in Venice, interspersed with Mya's thoughts, author Hantover has set himself a difficult task. Yet it all works to reveal a very thoughtful young man who learns 'how much in our life is told to us by others, how much we take on faith from the eyes and ears of those who have neither seen nor heard what they claim to know.' Abraham has lived in the Venice ghetto all his life, and it is as a free man that he explores the wonders of infidel temples and stone idols and a strange people. Contrary to what he has been told, he comes to know 'men made of flesh and blood no different, beneath their robes and tunics and hair braided and beaded, than those who walk the streets of Venice.' Above all he learns how corrupt it is for 'men who believe themselves superior to those they claim to describe and judge' to 'exclude those different from themselves from humanity's embrace.'

If it is an accomplishment for any novelist to write believable historical fiction, it is quite an achievement for a first-time author to induct us in two such different worlds as that of sixteenth-century Venice and Burma. But that Jeffrey Hantover does, and we are much the richer for it.

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