The Monk of Mokha
Dave Eggers (Heroes of the Frontier) enjoys seeking out and highlighting lesser-known stories. Through his founding of nonprofit 826Valencia and writing books like What Is the What, he uses his position in literary circles to shift his readers' attention. The Monk of Mokha is Eggers's biography of a courageous and somewhat naïve young man who began cultivating high-end coffee in Yemen during the outbreak in 2015 of the ongoing civil war.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali lives in the United States and drifts aimlessly through his 20s until he discovers his purpose: to revive the culture of coffee in his ancestral home. The modern process of roasting and drinking coffee beans originated in Yemen, where the plant was grown with great success for generations before global trade and political disorder nearly wiped out the practice. With internal strife and external competition, the idea of traveling to Yemen to convince farmers to begin growing coffee again seems like a fool's errand. This is especially so for someone who, at the beginning of his project, doesn't actually know the first thing about coffee cultivation, preparation or trade. The fact that Mokhtar succeeds in spite of this alone makes his story worth telling.
Eggers is always happy to explain to the reader aspects of Yemeni and coffee cultures. He's also never patronizing to Mokhtar, even as the young man makes foolhardy and risky decisions. Mokhtar has a vision, and through The Monk of Mokha, Eggers shows the power of belief. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.