Teddy Everett, sixth-generation international coffee magnate, is telling his story. He’s rambling, heading off in tangents, and he often repeats himself. This could be due to the medication – he is dying of lung cancer – or it could be because he is old.
His tale, occasionally circular and deliberately repetitive, is soaked in regret. Teddy is erudite and honest, and not particularly likeable. Actually, it’s hard to scour a likeable character from this book, but that doesn’t stop it from being a brainy, macho read.
Teddy’s father, stupid, mean, and obese, is sent to manage the Ethiopian side of the business by his great-grandfather, who cannot trust Teddy’s absent grandfather, a drug-addled, hedonist poet. In Africa, young Teddy sympathises with his father’s communist employees, who plan to murder their capitalist overlord and Nationalise the plantation. It all comes to the boil one day when Teddy is 14, but before his story gets there, Teddy will talk about his two wives, his first love Lucy Alvarez, coffee, Ethiopia, Cuba, communism and revolution. History occasionally flashes past; here’s Castro, there’s Selassie. Salmon’s style is disjointed yet gripping, like the ramblings of an old man, and it often reads as if the pages themselves are caffeinated. Jumpy, hyperactive sentences announce IMPORTANT PIECES in capitals, in paragraphs that have had their third double espresso for the morning. It’s a stylistic gamble that works.
Reviewed July 2011