In Marin / CONVERSATION
The subject of Dave Eggers’ best-seller has a true-life story of discovery,
escape and coffee. BY JIM WOOD • PHOTOS BY TRISTAN DAVISON
MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI IS the protago- nist of The Monk of Mokha, the recent best-seller by famed Sausalito-based author Dave Eggers. A son of Yemeni emi- gre parents, Alkhanshali grew up in San
Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin and is now the 30-year-old
founder and CEO of Port of Mokha coffee in Oakland.
The book is nonfiction: Alkhanshali is a living, breath-
ing person; his experiences and exploits really happened.
Eggers spent three years and hundreds of hours interview-
ing Alkhanshali and retracing most of his steps.
At its core, the story is about invincibility of spirit.
Overcoming his hardscrabble childhood, Alkhanshali
worked at jobs selling fuel-efficient Hondas and preppy
Banana Republic button-downs, but he was restless —
always thinking there must be more. He thought being
a doorman, or “lobby ambassador,” at a pricey San
Francisco condominium tower would finally provide the
answer to what he wanted to do with his life. And in a
way, it did.
And that’s where The Monk of Mokha takes off like
a jolt of espresso, as Alkhanshali begins to explore the
world of coffee. Not any coffee, but Yemeni coffee. Though
coffee arguably originated in Yemen, that was 500 years
and millions of cups ago. Alkhanshali journeys to recon-
nect with his Yemeni ancestors and to restore honor to
Yemen’s beleaguered coffee growers. Never mind that he
knew very little about coffee and had even less money and
that Yemen was embroiled in a dangerous civil war.
From selling Hondas in Oakland to crossing the Red Sea
in a skiff and landing in Djibouti, how did you recall the
details of your many experiences? Did you keep a jour-
nal? Or did Dave Eggers dig these memories out of you?
Great question. I met Dave and began this book just a
couple of weeks after I escaped. Dave
had the foresight to have me start
back wards so all the details from
my escape were still fresh in my
mind. The level of detail in the last
third of the book is really incredible
and that’s why the last third is so
intense. The rest of my life stories
came out in those three years of