The Jewel Trader of Pegu is the heart-wrenching story of a young Jewish jewel trader who travels from the confined walls of the Venetian Ghetto to the exotic and oftentimes confusing streets of the Pegu marketplace. Although Abraham’s adventure takes place in an ancient Burmese kingdom at the end of the 16th Century, his letters home are reminiscent of a modern-day online journal or blog and many of us who have left our home countries can relate to his struggles.
Initially, Abraham, not knowing any other life than the one he led on the restricted streets of Venice, is eager to fulfill his familial duties to his beloved uncle, trade his gems and return home to his safe, albeit melancholy, life. However, once he is immersed in the colorful Burmese lifestyle and experiences the liberation of walking the streets free of his distinctively Jewish hat and religious confines, his perspective changes and his mind begins to open to world around him.
Just as Abraham begins to settle into his new lifestyle, he is faced with another set of challenges that test his moral code and longstanding spiritual beliefs. As was customary of all foreign traders in 16th Century Pegu, Abraham is expected to initiate new brides and is coerced by his fear of retribution from the king. The story takes a dramatic turn when Abraham unexpectedly falls in love with Mya, an innocent, unassuming peasant woman who was sent for his services.
While many consider The Jewel Trader of Pegu a love story, I was equally compelled by the tale of Abraham’s voyage, of his acclamation into a foreign world and of the decisions he makes while trying to fuse his life with Mya and the unrelenting expectations of his home.
Although it seems impossible that a 20th Century Catholic girl from Texas could relate to a 16th Century Jewish Italian, I feel a kinship with Abraham. In the end his struggles are not unlike those we all endure when faced with unfamiliar cultures and far-off worlds and the lengths we will go to follow our hearts, aren’t that different.
The Jewel Trader of Pegu is Jeffrey Hantover’s debut novel. You can purchase the book, check out other reviews, browse through the reading guide or go behind the scenes with the Jewel Trader in the special PS section of highlights and interviews.
Enjoy and buon weekend!