‘This book is a work of non-fiction that depicts events seen and lived
by Mokhtar Alkhanshali’
– Dave Eggers, The Monk of Mokha
[ About The Monk of Mokha ]
From the best-selling author of The Circle – the gripping true story of a young Yemeni American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee but finds himself trapped in Sana’a by civil war
Mokhtar Alkhanshali is twenty-four, unable to pay for college, and working as a doorman when he becomes fascinated with the rich history of coffee. He travels to Yemen and visits countless farms, collecting samples, eager to bring improved cultivation methods to the countryside. In 2015 he is on the verge of success when civil war engulfs the country. The US Embassy closes, Saudi bombs rain down, and Mokhtar is trapped in Yemen, desperate to escape.
A heart-pounding true story, The Monk of Mokha weaves together the history of coffee, the ongoing Yemeni civil war, and the courageous journey of a young man–a Muslim and a US citizen–following the most American of dreams.
[ My Review ]
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers was first published January 3rd 2019 by Penguin and is described as a ‘story of a courageous and visionary young man following the most American of dreams.’
A book that received incredible reviews The Monk of Mokha is an extraordinary tale that really will open the eyes of any coffee drinker to the origins of their brew with fascinating insights into the history of the not so humble coffee bean.
In 2015 author Dave Eggers arranged to meet Mokhtar Alkhanshali in a coffee shop in Oakland California. Three years later, nearing completion of this book, Dave Eggers’ whole approach to coffee drinking, and the origins of the coffee he consumed, had changed completely. Why? Because of the awe-inspiring story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali and his determination to introduce the world to Yemini coffee during a time of civil unrest and discord in the homeland of his ancestors.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali was born and bred in San Francisco in a Yemeni family. He could never settle in one job and was always a strong advocate and activist for people’s rights to be upheld. After failed attempts in education, Mokhtar was a doorman in a very elite block of apartments when fate determined a very different path for him. He had not been aware of the history of Yemen as a coffee producer and was totally lacking in knowledge when it came to the history of coffee as the drink we all are familiar with today. He went to Yemen to carry out some research, staying with relatives along his travels and was very much surprised with what he discovered.
‘According to legend, it was in Mokha, a port city on the Yemeni coast, that the bean was first brewed…it was Ali Ibn Omar al-Shadhili, a Sufi holy man living in Mokha, who first brewed the bean into a semblance of what we know recognise as coffee – then known as qahwa…The Turks turned qahwa into kahve, which became in other languages, coffee.’
When Mokhtar began his journey, he knew that he was going to be travelling around a country that had changed drastically from his parents’ time. He was aware of the terrorist activities and the US drone strikes that were dominating headlines, but he also knew that he had landed on something incredible. Yemeni’s coffee trade was in the doldrums, with local tribes and militia now controlling the regions. Any potential coffee exporter was not encouraged to travel around these mountainous areas for safety reasons, with Ethiopia a more accessible choice. Ethiopia had a very strong coffee trade and had surpassed Yemen over the previous fifty years, leaving the Yemeni coffee market basically non-existent.
Mokhtar knew that the coffee in Yemen could be very special. He knew that there was a market for it, but there was no structure amongst those who grew the bean. Grading of the coffee and the standardisation of methods were nowhere to be seen, so Mokhtar devised a plan. He would require the necessary skills himself and would return to Yemen to help these growers to develop their crop in a sustainable and profitable manner. But Mokhtar was totally unprepared for the dangers that were about to befall him as the Saudi bombing began. When the US embassy closed its doors and moved all their staff out of Yemen, Mokhtar found himself alone. Facing a perilous expedition to get back to the US, Mokhtar knew that once he could tell the Yemeni coffee story and get the coffee elite listening to him, there was a success story waiting to happen.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali’s story is really something incredible to read about. He did succeed due to pure determination, courage and grit eventually setting up Port of Mokha, with his coffee available in the US for the first time in 2016. It has since become available across parts of Europe, South America and beyond.
Dave Eggers, with first-hand input from Mokhtar Alkhanshali, has written an immensely authentic and fascinating piece of work. It reads like a work of fiction, due to the expert writing style of its author, with a pace and a sense of excitement that really brings the story to life. True perseverance wins out in this epic tale. The Monk of Mokha is a remarkable real-life adventure of a young man with a dream and a passion, a young man who never ever gave up hope even when faced with the most frightening of circumstances. As a coffee drinker myself, this book has definitely given me much to think about and maybe someday a cup of Yemeni coffee will be an experience that I will be lucky enough to enjoy!
[ Bio ]
Dave Eggers is the author of many books, among them The Eyes and the Impossible, The Circle, The Monk of Mokha, Heroes of the Frontier, A Hologram for the King, and What Is the What. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company, and co-founder of 826 Valencia, a youth writing center that has inspired over 70 similar organizations worldwide. Eggers is winner of the American Book Award, the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Education, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the TED Prize, and has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Website ~ https://daveeggers.net/