Sort of a silly name for this sprawling, romantic, his­torical, block­buster of a novel. The Various Flavors of Coffee is English writer Anthony Capella’s third novel. His first, The Food of Love was a worldwide success and his second, The Wedding Officer is soon to be released as a movie. I have not read either, but I’d bet a double shot latte that The Various Flavors is his best.

The nar­rator grabs us on page one and doesn’t let go until 545 pages later. “Who is he, this young man who strolls toward us down Regent Street, a car­nation in his collar and a cane in his hand?” The nar­rator con­tinues with asides sug­gesting a very friv­olous, artsy fellow. The hook is when he says, “Come along; I am going to introduce you. Yes, I admit it – I know this ludi­crous young man, and soon you will know him, too.” And know him we will, for the nar­rator is describing himself as he appeared in the year 1896, fresh from being expelled from Oxford and con­vinced the world will soon be beating a fevered path to his poetic door.

His name is Robert Wallis and by the time we have had our first cup of coffee with him, we know he will never reach the poetic heights he dreams of. We also meet in the same café the coffee trader, Samuel Pinker, who will become his boss and will set him off on a life changing adventure. But the adventure doesn’t begin until Robert meets Samuel Pinker’s daughter, Emily, who works in her father’s coffee business. So, here we have a dandy, a busi­nessman, and a beau­tiful, want-​​to-​​be thor­oughly modern woman. And like a per­fectly brewed cup of coffee, we have all the ingre­dients for a robust and most sat­is­fying story.

Capella makes the business of coffee trading cap­ti­vating; he takes us into the origins of much of our own modern business prac­tices from the psy­chology of adver­tising to the machi­na­tions of the wheeler-​​dealers of the stock market. As a means of thwarting Robert’s desire to marry Emily, Pinker wheedles an agreement with him to travel to Africa (accom­panied by another mem­o­rable char­acter, a Scotsman who is explorer, exploiter, and ulti­mately doomed fellow employee) where he will establish a coffee plan­tation on property the size of London. In four years time, if the plan­tation is prof­itable, Robert may return to London and marry Emily.

Prof­itability can be in the eye of the beholder. Robert, but not the plan­tation, profits in ways he could never have imagined. He returns home after expe­ri­encing a life changing affair with another man’s beau­tiful slave; his shame at being unable to save the leopard-​​mauled Scotsman; and his inability to deal with the laborers who are only a hatchet and hoe away from slavery them­selves. His final indelible mark of change, is a tattoo, proving tribal mem­bership to the people who bring him back from the brink of insanity. Robert returns to England and broken promises, but it is there in the early years of the twen­tieth century where his second adventure begins.

It is a big book and I will not divulge any more than than the fact that Capella is a genius is in his ability to make us care, to laugh (big time), to cry, to be amazed and ulti­mately to be rewarded with a tale that ends in growth, under­standing and love, which he sug­gests comes in almost as many flavors as coffee.

Tagged with →  

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new reviews and posts by email.

Archives

Looking to buy a book?

We support inde­pendent book­stores to buy books. When shopping online, please use our affiliate links and think of us as your inde­pendent book seller and unbiased book reviewer.