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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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3,9052291,316 (4.09)3 / 611
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

Work details

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

  1. 120
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    booklove2: Very similar in writing style and general events.
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    pgmcc: Really enjoyable set of related stories with the author's well deomonstrated skill
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English (226)  Dutch (7)  French (1)  German (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (236)
Showing 1-5 of 226 (next | show all)
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is an enormously entertaining and informative historical novel set in Nagasaki, Japan, at the turn of the 19th century. The Empire of Japan was still a closed society. The only contact permitted with the outside world was at the port of Nagasaki, where the Chinese and Dutch were each permitted a small trading outpost. The Dutch outpost was an artificial island named Dejima, where a handful of Dutch were permitted to remain under close supervision. The only Japanese allowed on Dejima were the official interpreters, prostitutes, and a small group of medical students. [return][return]The novel follows Jacob de Zoet, a clerk who arrives at Dejima in 1799 in the company of a new Chief of the trading post. Jacob's job is to unravel the records after years of corruption. He is deep in this unpleasant and unpopular task when he has a chance meeting with a Japanese woman named Aibagawa Orito.[return][return]Orito is the daughter of a prominent scholar. A badly burned face has made her unmarriageable, so she has taken up the profession of midwife. She is one of the medical students permitted to study under the Dutch doctor at Dejima. Jacob is smitten with Orito, and risks his career, if not his life, to seek further contact with this scarred but intriguing beauty. This will lead to his becoming involved in a deadly power struggle between the local magistrate at Nagasaki and the leader of a mystical cult into whose clutches Orito soon falls.[return][return]David Mitchell draws an unforgettable portrait of the meeting and occasional clash of cultures from opposite sides of the world. Nagasaki is the port where Portuguese missionaries first introduced Christianity to Japan, leading to civil unrest which led the Japanese to ban the religion and severely constrain all outside contact by Japanese. The Dutch themselves are in a period of transition, for the French will soon conquer the Netherlands and, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, Dejima will become, at one point, the only place on the globe flying the Dutch tricolor. The English will soon enter the picture, and their attempt to force their way onto Dejima will become Jacob's greatest challenge.[return][return]The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is highly recommended for anyone who likes good historical fiction or just enjoys a well-told story. ( )
  Dolmance | Oct 29, 2015 |
When clerk Jacob De Zoet arrives in Dejima, an artificial island offshore from Nagasaki, he intends to make his fortune, return to the Netherlands in five years' time, and marry his sweetheart, Anna. However, Jacob is a principled man who believes in the tenets of his faith. He soon learns how costly principles can be in a trading system that thrives on corruption. His devotion to Anna is tested by his infatuation with a Japanese midwife - an infatuation that has unforeseen repercussions that will affect both the Dutch traders and the Japanese.

Setting, characters, and plot combine to make this an unforgettable novel. My only complaint is that some of the action takes place outside the book's pages. The midwife Orita is the only female among the book's central characters and I would have liked more of her story than Mitchell gives his readers. If Mitchell would write more historical novels I would happily read them. ( )
  cbl_tn | Oct 27, 2015 |
Gonna write a review any second now. Annnny second... ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
David Mitchell never does the same thing twice when it comes to writing novels. This is a trait that can annoy some readers, but not me. Watching a writer like David Mitchell explore every literary whim and technique is quite exciting, and challenging-- I never know what to expect with each new book.

This novel is less 'experimental' than his previous books, unless you are willing to accept the constraints and obstacles writing historical novels can create. Anachronisms can pop up in the best of writer's attempts, but Mitchell succeeds in creating a rich, evocative period, the era when Japan was closed to but a handful of outsiders, and even then, these outsiders were confined to a tiny, man-made island. 'Otherness' is a driving force in this novel, and we encounter various characters on both sides of the divide as they wrestle with the promise and specter of more open relations. As always, Mitchell's attention to detail is superb, as is his prose. A wonderful book within which to lose oneself. ( )
  VladVerano | Oct 20, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 226 (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.

» Add other authors (11 possible)

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)

(summary from another edition)

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