The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet (Paperback)
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DescriptionIn your hands is a place like no other: a tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. Instead he loses his heart. Step onto the streets of Dejima and mingle with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines as two cultures converge. In a tale of integrity and corruption, passion and power, the key is control - of riches and minds, and over death itself.
- Published: 17 March 2011
- Format: Paperback 576 pages
- ISBN 13: 9780340921586 ISBN 10: 0340921587
- Sales rank: 4,170
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Reviews for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
- Top review
a brilliant novel
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the fifth novel by award-winning British author, David Mitchell, who classifies it as historical fiction. Jacob de Zoet is a young Dutch clerk, a Zeelander working for the Dutch East India Company, on a five-year clerical post to Java, where he hopes to make his fortune in order to marry his Dutch sweetheart. He arrives in Nagasaki with the new Chief Resident-elect of Dejima, an island enclave to which the Dutch traders are confined. Soon after his arrival, he encounters a young Japanese midwife with whom he promptly falls in love. Mitchell slowly and carefully crafts his plot to reach a dramatic climax. Mitchell's potted histories of his characters contribute to their depth and appeal, as well as developing the plot. His dialogue sounds genuine, especially the rendering of translated language. Mitchell gives the reader a fascinating peek into the world that was European trade with Japan in the late 18th century. This was a world filled with corruption, bribery, execution and religious persecution. De Zoet learns the diplomacy and the political tactics necessary in dealing with the Japanese, and that men of honour and integrity are few and far between. This novel makes the historical facts, which might have been dry and unpalatable, interesting and easy to assimilate. De Zoet is loosely based on Hendrick Doeff, one of Dejima's real Chief Residents. Mitchell does bend a few historical facts: the incident on which the climax is based actually happened somewhat later; the reference by characters in 1799 to the mass eradication of Tasmanian aborigines is premature; nonetheless, this does not detract from the novel in any way. Some of the prose is truly beautiful: Mitchell manages to be quite lyrical about clouds and weather; there are also several charming illustrations. This is a brilliant novel and easily the best I have read in a long time. by Marianne Vincent
Highly engaging. Brilliant.
In one respect, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is a finely crafted and authentic historical novel of cloistered Shogun Japan and the mortal struggle of European empires to control the fortune-building sea trade. But for the reader, that's just a particularly well painted backdrop. For us, it is a completely engaging tale of human strength and weakness, that follows the lives of an ambitious junior Dutch clerk and the strong and intelligent young Japanese woman he is smitten with.
As the plot develops, we become increasingly drawn in to Jacob and Orita's lives. We can't help but feel their hope and suffer their disappointments along with them as they are buffetted by chance and circumstance and the casually terrifying natures of others more powerful.
Mitchell has a genius for dialogue, always seeming to strike the right note. He effortlessly captures the rough accents and humourous ignorance of base waterfront bullies and just as well, creates the tension and stylised formality of the machinations of the Japanese Mandarins.
His many characters come to life through this convincing dialogue made convincing by the meticulously described environments in which they live. His gouty English captain Penhaligon aboard HMS Phoebus is just as believable as the conflicted young Japanese interpreter Uzaemon Ogawa as he struggles to find meaning in the strange phrases of his Dutch charges.
But although we're privy to all this detail, the story never drags or bottlenecks. We're whisked along in one direction, then the next and can only hold on and enjoy the thrill of the ride.
This was my first David Mitchell and I've already secured my second. The Thousand Nights will appeal to a broad audience and I highly recommended it as the best novel I've read this year. by Dan Cater