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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A…

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel (original 2010; edition 2010)

by David Mitchell

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3,8332271,345 (4.09)3 / 596
Title:The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel
Authors:David Mitchell
Info:Random House (2010), Hardcover, 496 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:TBR, England

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (2010)

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English (223)  Dutch (7)  French (1)  German (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (233)
Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
I had a difficult time making it through this novel. The redeeming factor was that it is an historical novel set in a time and place that I knew nothing about, so it has the distinction of teaching me something that I did not know. The setting is Japan in the late 1700’s. To be more precise, most action takes place on a man-made island that was built by the Japanese to house the offices and warehouses of the Dutch East India Company. The Japanese were very fearful of any outside influence, so foreigners were barred from entering the country. A bridge from this island to the mainland was heavily guarded and only a few were allowed to pass over it. Through some outside research, I found out that this part of the story is true. Historical conflicts between the Dutch and English are also interwoven throughout the novel.
The protagonist of the novel is a Dutchman, Jacob de Zoet, who goes to the island to earn enough money to qualify him for marriage to the daughter of a very wealthy Dutch businessman. The plot involves includes elements of an interracial romantic attraction, kidnapping, corruption, prostitution, samurai lifestyle and values and much more. Even though this was only three stars for me, I liked it enough to want to read other books by the author.
( )
  TheresaCIncinnati | Aug 17, 2015 |
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (hereafter TAJZ) was a masterful work, probably my #2 favorite (just behind Black Swan Green) of David Mitchell’s four great books I have read so far. (Still to come: Ghostwritten and Number9Dream).

Mitchell amply demonstrates his wonderful writing skills and abilities in TAJZ. The story, and Mitchell’s telling of it, are so good. The author’s prose style is engaging and confident. The characters who inhabit TAJZ are complex, interesting, and plausible. Even the story’s numerous bad, highly imperfect, and sometimes evil eggs are difficult to dislike completely. I also loved the unpretentious way we got to meet some important characters and ideas from Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas in these pages!

In addition, and as a temporary gaijin resident of Japan, I also enjoyed the book’s fascinating history lesson. TAJZ beautifully evinces an intensive, painstaking effort on Mitchell’s part to research and accurately portray the historical details and cultural texture of 18-19C Edo Japan’s closed society and the mercantilist aspirations of competing nations (European and American). The story’s accounts of carefullly-monitored Dutch life at Dejima really resonated with my impressions and experiences from a brief recent visit to Nagasaki.

Long and wonderful story short: Mitchell is at his awesome and masterful best in TAJZ. ( )
  EpicTale | Jul 29, 2015 |
At the end of the 18th century a small dutch trading post is established on the Japanese island of Dejima off Nagasaki. Jacob de Zoet takes up a 5 year post as a clerk to sort out discrepancies in the company,s books and hopefully earn the hand in marriage of his sweetheart at home..
A well constructed epic story follows which demands your full attention. ( )
  TheWasp | Mar 30, 2015 |
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet tells the story of the Dutch East India Company’s trading post off of Nagasaki in 1977. Japan has been cut off from the rest of the world and the only outside influence was a small man-made island known as Dejima. Originally built by Portuguese traders, this island was walled off and used by the Dutch as a trading post from 1641 until 1853. This novel follows the story of Jacob de Zoet, a young clerk who has been sent to Dejima to uncover any evidence of corruption form the previous Chief Resident of this trading post.

My first attempt with David Mitchell was Cloud Atlas which probably was a terrible starting point; I had a lot of problems with the fragmented storyline. I know that Cloud Atlas was an experimental piece of post-modern fiction but for me it felt like a writing exercise to see what genres he was able to write in. With a little push, I was convinced to try The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which is a straight forward historical fiction novel that would allow me to discover Mitchell as a writer but try anything experimental again. I think if I read this book first, I would have gained an appreciation for this author and been more willing to see what he can do when he played around with genres.

This novel can be broken into two parts. The first half of the book establishes the world; we learn about the history of the Dutch East India Company, Japan and the island of Dejima. Mitchell spends a lot of time building characters and painting beautiful scenery. This is a nice slow-paced section that just explores the history and the culture clash between Japan and the Dutch; it also allows the reader to meet some of the characters. Then the book changes tone completely and everything becomes fast paced and thrilling which I won’t get into as this is where the bulk of the plot happens and I am not willing to give spoilers.

While this book does deal with the culture clash, it also looks at love and the human condition. Jacob de Zoet falls in love with a Japanese midwife, Orito and the plot does focuses a lot around this affection. Orito was a great heroine in this book. She pushes to learn how to be a midwife, in a time and place where the term midwife would have been unheard of. She is this strong willed and intelligent woman that just stole the show for me. I did struggle a little with Jacob de Zoet, he was this incorruptible man working on a trading post full of corruption. He just felt so good and kind, almost to the point of being fake. His prudishness and piety sometimes rubbed me the wrong way; as most people know. I do like characters that are deeply flawed so Jacob came across as too perfect. Having said that, I think this (somewhat) perfect protagonist was utilised well within the novel and helped Mitchell explore the themes around the human condition.

One thing I was curious about that I felt wasn’t explored enough was the language barrier between the Japanese and the Dutch. There was a great deal of exploration with the differences in cultures and how they clashed but when it came to language it was brushed over. There is so much there that was mentioned that I wanted more information about, for example when it came to the translators. The translators had the power to translate Japanese to Dutch and the opportunities for corruption was mentioned briefly and I would have loved to see these ideas explored more.

David Mitchell seems to have a keen interest in Japanese culture and the human condition, I felt like The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was able to explore these topics far better than I think Cloud Atlas did. I am not trying to rip apart Cloud Atlas (I may re-read it one day), I just felt the emotions and character development were missing from that novel. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has given me the confidence to try more books by David Mitchell and I am not sure what I will look at next but I am curious. If anyone wants to recommend me another Mitchell book, maybe something with a flawed character, please let me know.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2015/01/17/the-thousand-autumns-of-jacob-de-zoet... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Jan 19, 2015 |
I didn't know what to expect from David Mitchell's "Thousand Autumns" except that it would be different than the others I'd read ("Cloud Atlas" and "The Bone Clocks" this year), but that it would contain some familiar faces from the other books.
So reading this one became a little bit of a Where's Waldo game of spotting characters which would show up in later (or earlier) works. Thankfully, he gets Marinus, the main recurring character, on stage quickly, though, because I got sucked into the story after orienting myself around some of the other characters assembling in the Dutch East India Company's little island outpost in Japan.
I love the way the novel pivots from Jacob's arrival to his interest in the burned, odd figure of Miss Aiba-gawa in Marinus's collection of medical students, to her removal to the mysterious mountain monastery, an attempted rescue by her former lover Uzaemon, and the abandonment of the Dutch outpost and its caretaker residents, and then their eventual uprising, when the English arrive on the scene, and Jacob's dismantling of the monastery and 'rescue' of Aiba-gawa by somewhat diplomatic means. More than the heady leaps and bounds of a Cloud Atlas or Bone Clocks these pivots are like the tacking of a majestic ship. And within the sections Mitchell steers his beautiful, masterful prose. He has a small tic, in this book, of breaking up dialogue with narrative description, mid-sentence, so that the language has an odd, halting rhythm of someone in a foreign land, submersed in foreign culture, trying to reconcile their own language with that of their hosts. At a certain stage of the book he used the trick so much that it became a little distracting, but, like I said, it made me think of someone stuck out in a foreign outpost in which he was learning the native language from his translators.

I haven't felt quite the sense of loss I had when I had to give this book back to the library. What a great read. ( )
1 vote mhanlon | Jan 12, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
There are no easy answers or facile connections in “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.” In fact, it’s not an easy book, period. Its pacing can be challenging, and its idiosyncrasies are many. But it offers innumerable rewards for the patient reader and confirms Mitchell as one of the more fascinating and fearless­writers alive.
added by LiteraryFiction | edithttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/books/review/Eggers-t.html?ref=bookreviews, Dave Eggers (Jul 1, 2010)
Another Booker Prize nomination is likely to greet this ambitious and fascinating fifth novel—a full-dress historical, and then some—from the prodigally gifted British author
added by sturlington | editKirkus Reviews (May 1, 2010)
For his many and enthusiastic admirers — critics, prize juries, readers — the fecundity of Mitchell’s imagination marks him as one of the most exciting literary writers of our age. Indeed, in 2007, he was the lone novelist on Time’ s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Through five novels, most impressively with his 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, Mitchell has demonstrated flat-out ambition with respect to testing — sometimes past their breaking points — the conventions of storytelling structure, perspective, voice, language and range. The result, according to Mitchell’s rare detractors, is an oeuvre marked by imaginative wizardry and stylistic showmanship put on offer for their own sake. For most everyone else, however, Mitchell’s writing is notable because its wizardry and showmanship are in the service of compulsively readable stories and, at its best moments, are his means of revealing, in strange places and stranger still ways, nothing less than the universals of human experience.
Though direct in its storytelling, Jacob de Zoet marks a return to full amplitude. That means occasionally over-long scenes and one or two rambling monologues. But it also guarantees fiction of exceptional intelligence, richness and vitality.
With “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” David Mitchell has traded in the experimental, puzzlelike pyrotechnics of “Ghostwritten” and “Number9Dream” for a fairly straight-ahead story line and a historical setting.

He’s meticulously reconstructed the lost world of Edo-era Japan, and in doing so he’s created his most conventional but most emotionally engaging novel yet: it’s as if an acrobatic but show-offy performance artist, adept at mimicry, ventriloquism and cerebral literary gymnastics, had decided to do an old-fashioned play and, in the process, proved his chops as an actor.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Mitchellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aris, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilcox, PaulaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For K, H & N with love
First words
'Miss Kawasemi?' Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. 'Can you hear me?'
‘If only,’ Shiroyama dreams, ‘human beings were not masks behind masks behind masks. If only this world was a clean board of lines and intersections. If only time was a sequence of considered moves and not a chaos of slippages and blunders.”
Creation never ceased on the sixth evening, it occurs to the young man. Creation unfolds around us, despite us and through us at the speed of days and nights. And we call it love.
“The soul is a verb." He impales a lit candle on a spike. "Not a noun.”
For white men, to live is to own, or to try to own more, or to die trying to own more. Their appetites are astonishing! They own wardrobes, slaves, carriages, houses, warehouses, and ships. They own ports, cities, plantations, valleys, mountains, chains of islands. They own this world, its jungles, its skies, and its seas. Yet they complain that Dejima is a prison. They complain they are not free.
Killing depends on circumstances, as you'd expect, whether it's a cold, planned murder, or a hot death in a fight, or inspired by honor or a more shameful motive. However many times you kill, though, it's the first that matters. It's a man's first blood that banishes him from the world of the ordinary.
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Book description
The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the “high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island” that is the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay; the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company; and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes, and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancée back in Holland.

But Jacob’s original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city’s powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken. The consequences will extend beyond Jacob’s worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, “Who ain’t a gambler in the glorious Orient, with his very life?”

A magnificent mix of luminous writing, prodigious research, and heedless imagination, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the most impressive achievement of its eminent author.
Haiku summary
Sorry, we don't trade
With foreigners. Oh, you're Dutch?
Of course, that's different!

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1799, Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor. Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk, has a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city's powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken--the consequences of which will extend beyond Jacob's worst imaginings.… (more)

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