The Taste of Many Mountains is my first novel and was released on the market by publisher Thomas Nelson (HarperCollins) August 5, 2014. I wrote this novel for younger people living in an age of globalization who want to make a meaningful difference in the world, meaningful both to them and the people whom they seek to help. My purpose in writing it as a novel as opposed to a non-fiction book was to absorb a much wider audience into issues of development and globalization through the minds and growth of interesting characters.
I wrote the novel over a span of five years, and it is based on a true story of a grant that a group of us at U.C. Berkeley and the University of San Francisco received from USAID to study the impact of fair trade coffee in Central America. As part of this grant we assigned a small platoon of graduate students from our two universities to the task of following a bag of fair-trade coffee beans all the way from peasant coffee growers in the western highlands of Guatemala, to a processor, a fair-trade exporter, to a roaster in Oakland, all the way to a café in San Francisco, calculating the profit made at every stage of the journey. Here is a short documentary on the writing of the novel that was done in Guatemala.
The student characters in the novel each come with their share of baggage–and very different views on poverty and globalization issues. Following the path of the coffee beans, the students encounter a series of events that cause them to engage in a meaningful dialogue about poverty and globalization issues that lead them to consider the role and responsibility of people in the rich world to the poor in the developing world. In this dialogue, there are vivid discussions between the characters about issues such as sweatshops, microfinance, and global free trade in which intelligent students from different perspectives struggle with these issues. At another level the novel is a kind of coming-of-age story for 20-somethings, and part of it hints at a modern, globalized remake of the Wizard of Oz: As they follow down the road of the coffee beans, each student has a flaw that can only be addressed through the friction that develops through the clashing interaction of the characters in the group.
The main character is a young development economist named Angela, who was adopted by an American family as a Guatemalan orphan during the civil war. Angela struggles with her identity. She is returning to the country for the first time, seeing how her life as it is and as it would have been, conflicted with this contrast both intellectually and personally. The students befriend a peasant coffee grower, Fernando Ixtamperic, who recounts a sequence of stories about the history of coffee growing in his family from the time coffee was introduced in Guatemala in the 1860s up to the present. In these stories we learn about how globalization has touched this coffee-growing Mayan family over generations to the present. These historical vignettes function as back-stories that play off each other, until they finally converge to a climax during Guatemala’s civil war and then finally to the present, profoundly affecting the students and how they view the the meaning and purpose of their lives in a globalized world.
Here is a clip from the audio book. I have to say, the narrator Roberto Borquez’ voice is mucho cool; strongly reminiscent of the Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World:
“What actually works to reduce poverty in poor countries? A distinguished development economist uses the unusual format of a well-written, emotion-packed novel, weaving together careful history and sophisticated economics, to show the ordinary reader what works and what does not. Gripping, enlightening, and very readable. A must read.”
—Ron Sider, Author, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
“Both a personal voyage of discovery and a description of how researchers have come to understand Fair Trade, The Taste of Many Mountains sheds light on the long journey that coffee makes from smallholder farms in Guatemala to the barista. The story captures key elements of our research on the impact of fair trade coffee and addresses profound questions about global poverty.”
—Craig McIntosh, Professor of Economics, Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California at San Diego
“Coffee lovers are on a continual quest for the great cup of coffee. Dr. Bruce Wydick is on a simultaneous quest to understand how some of those great coffees are nurtured and grown by some of the world’s poorest farmers. And that begins the story, the mystery, and the twists in The Taste of Many Mountains. The noble lives of the growers he portrays who farm the hillsides of Guatemala could only be developed by the heartfelt, firsthand knowledge of a researcher who has lived in their midst, agonized with their struggles, and admired their characters. Anybody who wants to ‘do good’ needs to read The Taste of Many Mountains! An excellent novel in its own right—it also explodes the illusion of easy answers and cliché responses to the challenges of globalization and alleviating poverty. Dr. Wydick’s first novel is brewed perfectly for his readers—full of rich body with double-shots of insight.”
—Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, President & CEO Compassion International
“Bruce Wydick successfully mixes adventure, mystery and economic analysis in his novel. His book will generate great discussions in an introductory Economic Development class or a Latin American studies course. Students with little or no exposure to life in a developing country will get a compassionate view of the origins of something we often take for granted: a cup of coffee.”
—Emily Conover, Assistant Professor of Economics, Hamilton College
“Pack your bags, join a colorful international research team of graduate students, and head to the Guatemalan highlands as an economic sleuth—or read this book. It will transport you into the world of cutting-edge economics and into the lives of people far away whose stories are surprisingly interwoven with our own. This book is a wonder: simultaneously thought-provoking and educational, entertaining and gripping, and deeply moving.”
—Chris Ahlin, Associate Professor of Economics, Michigan State University
“Bruce Wydick takes us to the coffee plantations of rural Guatemala, traces the production path to the lattes we sip each day, and asks some penetrating questions: Why do coffee growers’ children remain shoeless despite the success of the Fair Trade scheme? Why does a bout of bad weather profit these impoverished farmers more? What can we truly do to ensure they’re paid a living wage? A detective story and an economics lesson in one, The Taste of Many Mountains is an engaging read on one of today’s critical justice issues.”
—Sheridan Voysey, writer, speaker, broadcaster, and author of Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings
“Building on a dominant, tangible ritual of modern society—coffee drinking—Bruce Wydick has crafted a thoughtful story of economic and personal discovery. The narrative is rich in economic principles, filled with insights into the richness and process of doing research fieldwork, and packed with perspectives on poverty and global markets.”
—Travis Lybbert, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California at Davis
“Bruce Wydick’s story is a tale of discovery, a quest to Central America to find out how the coffee trade really works. While sympathetically portraying a range of perspectives about international economics, wealth and poverty, the book is also a meditation on how we know anything about the workings of the economy.”
—Dean Scrimgeour, Assistant Professor of Economics, Colgate University
“The Taste of Many Mountains will amuse, confuse, and perhaps displease its readers. While a novel about economics graduate students would seem to many to be, at best, an effective treatment for insomnia, this book is both engaging and thought-provoking. Anyone who is interested in reducing poverty in developing countries would learn much from this book, and those who think they already know how to achieve this goal are likely to learn the most.”
—Paul Glewwe, Professor, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota