The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella

It is London 1896, and young bohemian poet Robert Wallis accepts a job from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker, to compile a guide to the various flavours of coffee.  Robert finds himself working with Pinker’s daughter Emily and despite their very different lifestyles and attitudes, they find themselves attracted to each other.  However, Pinker then sends Robert to Africa for five years, to manage a coffee plantation.  While there, Robert meets Fikre, a slave girl owned by a wealthy Arabian coffee merchant; she awakens desire in him such as he has never known before, and makes him question everything he thought he knew about life, love and himself.

This book, which takes place at the end of the 19th century, tells the story of Robert’s journey from London to Africa and back again, but it is also a story of his metaphorical journey – from that of a selfish, foppish, irresponsible (but still rather endearing) young man, to a man with morals and concerns about social issues.  It also touches on subjects such as fair trade, slavery and suffrage (the last issue becoming a bigger theme in the latter part of the book).  There are numerous and lavish descriptions of various types of coffee; and if you think this sounds like it might be boring, think again!  It was actually fascinating, and made it almost a necessary requirement to drink coffee while reading. 

Robert narrates the book himself, so perhaps is portrayed in a more sympathetic light than if another character had narrated the book.  At the beginning of the story, he is superficial and blase about life, he lives well beyond his means, and spends most of his nights frequenting the whorehouses of London.  Despite all of this, it’s hard not to like him, and I could see how the serious minded and intelligent Emily could be attracted to him.  Emily herself was one of my favourite characters – her passion for politics and in particular, campaigning for women to be able to vote, made for an interesting sub-plot, and provided interesting details about the abuse of process which went on, and how certain people tried to stop women having any independence at all.  It made me eager to find out more about the subkect and was one of the most interesting parts of the story for me.  The book was less than 500 pages long, but certainly packed a lot of story into those pages! 

The ending was unpredictable (to me at least), but satisfying nonetheless, with the very final chapter finishing the story off perfectly.  This was the first book I’ve ever read by Anthony Capella, but I definitely intend to read more.  I’d definitely recommend this book.

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