Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 4 stars
If you have watched much of NPR or morning talk shows recently, you have probably seen Mokhtar Alkhanshali and Dave Eggers on television discussing this book. Mokhtar, an American born child of Yemeni immigrants, was a disappointment to his family. Lacking ambition or desire for higher education, he opted to work as a doorman at a luxury hotel in San Francisco. One day, during a discussion with a former girlfriend, Mokhtar happened to notice the statue of a man drinking coffee across the street from the hotel. Little did he know that this observation would set him off on a course to re-introduce Yemeni coffee to the world despite insurmountable odds.
This is a book about sheer determination, passion, and a love of country. Mokhtar travels back and forth between Yemen and California to learn the ins and outs of the coffee industry. He takes this knowledge to Yemeni farmers to re-invigorate the approach to coffee farming and to seek out the best coffee beans in the region. This travel becomes increasingly dangerous with each trip due to the volatile political climate that progressed into Civil War. There are many instances where Mokhtar doubts he will succeed, or even survive. It's even more mind blowing that this took place within the past decade and Mokhtar is only in his twenties!
As a reader, I was on the edge of my seat rooting for Mokhtar and for Yemen itself. When Mokhtar makes out of Yemen at last and the coffee is on a ship heading for San Francisco, I couldn't help but let out a cheer and a sigh of relief. Just a few short years later, the world is beginning to appreciate the complex flavors of Yemeni coffee but with no real understanding at just how extraordinary a feat it was to bring it to us. Little is known about the Yemeni Civil War, the people of Yemen, or its humanity crisis and that's a shame. I walked away with an appreciation for the coffee I drink, the history behind it, and the people who made it possible for me to drink it. The Monk of Mokha is an edge-of-your-seat non-fiction book that reads like a work of fiction, and that's a rare treat. I enthusiastically recommend this book to any coffee lovers, those with an interest in other cultures, or those who enjoy learning about food culture.