The global coffee trade is a collision between the rich world and the poor world.
A group of graduate students is about to experience that collision head-on.
Angela, Alex, Rich, and Sofi a bring to their summer research project in Guatemala more than their share of grad-school baggage—along with clashing ideas about poverty and globalization. But as they follow the trail of coffee beans from the Guatemalan peasant grower to the American coffee drinker, what unfolds is not only a stunning research discovery, but an unforgettable journey of personal challenge and growth.
Based on an actual research project on fair trade coffee funded by USAID, The Taste of Many Mountains is a brilliantly-staged novel about the global economy in which University of San Francisco economist Bruce Wydick examines the realities of the coffee trade from the perspective of young researchers struggling to understand the chasm between the world’s rich and poor.
**I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from BookLookBloggers.com & Harper Collins Christian Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
The concept of this book really intrigued me and the idea of four graduate students traveling through Guatemala seemed like there might possibly be a decent adventure story included. Meh, not so much. The author in his introduction explains that he was inspired to write this novel (which was inspired by an actual research project that was done on fair trade coffee, where a bag of coffee was followed from its source all the way to the coffee shop, documenting how much money was made at each stage of the process) to hopefully bring the information, in an entertaining way, to a wider range of readers than just budding economists. I applauded the idea and thought this would would be a gripping, thought-provoking read on the chasm between the rich and poor classes. Good Lord, this book was a freakin' snoozefest. None of the graduate student characters were all that interesting and their dialogue was so wooden, sounding like their speech was pulled directly from an economics textbook! It reminded me of those educational films you had to watch in school, where the actors are made to look like the student viewer's age, but their stilted speech patterns clearly give away that they're reading fact-laden cue cards. You just want to scream "No one talks like that!". The writing had such a detached tone, it felt like it just threw a wet towel over any sense of touching humanity the story might have otherwise offered.
There were just a few brief exceptions to this that convinced me to give this book two stars rather than one:
1) The flashback scenes involving the Guatemalan community in the 1983, where they are being overtaken by soldiers -- these scenes presented the gripping tone I was hoping for for the rest of the novel! So much so, that it actually felt like these passages were written by someone else entirely!
2) The story of Lourdes was really sad, especially after reading the author's note at the end of the story, revealing that that character was inspired by a real person he knew who suffered the same fate given to Lourdes in the novel.
3) The bit about Angela revisiting the Guatemalan community after the project had ended and discovering she has a more personal tie to the village people than she ever realized. That moment was pretty touching.
Aside from those brief moments, I was mostly just bored to tears with this one, which is a shame because I think the discussion on fair trade is an important one that many readers can benefit from -- but this isn't the first book I'd recommend for that education.