Sunday, January 18, 2009

The various flavours of coffee - Novel of Anthony Capella

The name coffee in the title attracted me at first sight, since café is linked to Latin America , my passion. Cafe is an ingredient of the fascinating Latin America. Café con leche is how I describe the Brazilians. Café con visa is my brand. Café con Piernas is the Chilean brand. Hmmm… the title of my first ever story in the Latin American Affairs blog is cafe means more than coffee in latin america ( ). So it is no wonder I was drawn to the book like a magnet. And reading the book was indeed like enjoying an aromatic, tasty and rich cafe, sitting on the side walks of Buenos Aires, below the bluish violet Jacaranda flower trees.

The book is full of coffee all the way, describing its flavours, tastes and interpretations by lovers, African tribes and the London housewives. The author connects the coffee to love in every possible opportunity . He says love is a mixture of any number of feelings; infatuation, idealism, tenderness, lust, the urge to protect or be protected, the desire to ravish, comradeship, friendship, aesthetic appreciation and a thousand more besides. The author has brewed the coffee with passion and added love and sensuality like sugar and milk. He touches every sense and nerve exploring the sensual world of love fully and ardently.

This is the story of a Victorian- era young and idle Englishman Robert Wallis whose life was changed by a cup of coffee, and a cup of very bad coffee at that. The would-be poet and bohemian is sitting in a London coffee house contemplating an uncertain future. He comments to the waiter the bad taste of the coffee. Samuel Pinker, a coffee importer, who is on the next table hears the comments and offers to Wallis the very last thing he could want: a job. But the job Wallis is offered - composing a "vocabulary of coffees" that captures their many subtle and elusive flavours - is the beginning of an extraordinary adventure. Wallis falls in love with Emily his emplyer´s idealistic daughter. Despite their differences, they soon discover that you cannot interrogate one set of senses without awakening others. They become engaged.

Then Wallis is dispatched to Africa in search of the source of the legendary Arabic mocca. As he travels to coffee's birthplace - and sees the conditions in which the crop is actually grown - he meets Fikre, the African slave girl of a powerful merchant, who makes him coffee in the traditional Abyssinian coffee ceremony. And when Fikre dares to slip Wallis a single coffee bean, everything he thought he knew – about coffee, about love, about himself – starts to unravel….. She seduces him with coffee and coffee beans. He discovers the divine combination of love, sex, sensuality and happiness. It was a new revelation for him, although he is a connoisseur of the pleasure houses of London. Robert discovers during the high point of his ecstacy that he was being used by Fikre who disappears suddenly.
He returns to London,after his failed business venture and devastated by the trauma of deceived love. By this time. Emily is married off to a politician, after she received a letter from Robert breaking his engagement and confessing his love of Fikre and begging her forgiveness. He finds Emily taking up the cause of voting right for women while struggling to maintain her free spirit in a troubled marriage. She dies for the cause eventually after confessing to Robert her hidden love for him, which she never expressed while alive.
Around this story of love, lust and passion the author has narrated the story of coffee politics and market. His writing is delightful with the unique British suble humour and understatements. Having been born in Uganda, he has shown a passion for Africa. He has brought in Brazil briefly on the politics and markets of coffee. Pity, he did not make use of the café con leche country, its people , their passions and culture, which would have enriched the coffee book.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

- A well made cup of coffee is the proper beginning to an idle day. Its aroma is beguiling, its taste is sweet; yet it leaves behind only bitterness and regret. In that it resembles, surely, the pleasures of love.....
- She smelled of coffee: there was the taste of it in every kiss; her hands were coffee; her lips were coffee, it was there in the taste her skin and the glistening clear liquid in the corner of her eyes. This reminds me of the Colombian soap opera called as ¨mujer con aroma de café¨- means woman with the aroma of coffee.
- What does a woman want? – asks the African tribal chief to which his wife replies¨¨Never to be asked what she wants.
- How easy it is to mistake attention for interest.
- He discovered that he had loved Fikre with an absolute physical passion and even something a bit more besides. For him it was new territory to be marked in full on the hitherto blank atlas of the heart.
- He had experienced in his life a desire for many women; tenderness for some ; affection and admiration for a few. There were some who were a challenge, some a diversion and others for whom his lust itself was a kind of sweet ecstatic torment.

This is the first novel of Anthony Capella I have read. I am tempted to read his other book the Food of Love.