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

by David Mitchell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,1592531,205 (4.07)3 / 634
Member:sturlington
Title:The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Authors:David Mitchell
Info:Random House (2010), Edition: First, 3rd printing, Hardcover with dustjacket
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Horologists cycle, Historical fiction, Japan, Nagasaki, 18th century, fave author, isolated islands, read in 2010

Work details

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

  1. 120
    Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (booklove2)
    booklove2: Very similar in writing style and general events.
  2. 61
    An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (bellisc)
    bellisc: also set at a crossroads of science and faith, though wholly in Europe, similar in writing style and themes
  3. 51
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (pgmcc)
    pgmcc: Really enjoyable set of related stories with the author's well deomonstrated skill
  4. 31
    Embassytown by China Miéville (ansate)
  5. 10
    Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Multatuli (pgraat)
    pgraat: Both books have a main character who fights against injustice, and are set in the Dutch colonial past.
  6. 21
    The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott (clif_hiker)
  7. 43
    Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell (CGlanovsky, PghDragonMan)
    CGlanovsky: A westerner in Japan.
    PghDragonMan: The best, and worst, of feudal Japan through the eyes of a foreigner.
  8. 00
    Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (rstaedter)
    rstaedter: Though not a story of eastern and western cultures, nonetheless a dense description of a foreign culture in the past.
  9. 00
    Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (zottel)
    zottel: Very similar feeling, perfect story-telling in well-researched historical fiction.
  10. 00
    A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth L. Ozeki (sturlington)
  11. 12
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (psybre)
  12. 47
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (kidzdoc)
    kidzdoc: This is another excellent British historical novel.
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English (248)  Dutch (8)  German (2)  French (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (260)
Showing 1-5 of 248 (next | show all)
An unconventional historical fiction turned mystical-occult-evil-defeating adventure, this novel about the Dutch trade in a sea port of Japan in 1799 should be dull but is instead skilfully informative and imaginative, with wonderfully simple yet dense prose and almost pulp-fiction characters. The transition to the other-worldly dark-magic rescue story is not seamless but done with such rollicking fun, meta-incredulity and offbeat humour that its addition should be treated more like a bonus than tacked-on.

My favourite aspect of the book - other than Aibagawa, of course, the smart, no-nonsense, don't-need-a-man-to-rescue-me, I'll-make-my-own-choices feminist, - is the way the book is clearly in "Dutch" (but conveyed to us in English) and the differing levels of "Dutch" the Japanese translators speak. Another favourite is the equal-opportunity racism, the tendency of all sides to exoticise the "foreign", Jacob creepin' on Orita's features and everybody else side-eye-ing Jacob's red hair and green eyes. Most importantly of all, the novel was apotheosised by me by not turning out to be another White Male Succeeds in Ancient Japanese Pursuit Where All Other Japanese Men Have Failed, that sub-genre of the well-worn Foreign Caucasian Saviour of "Exotic" People.

A tapestry of the bizarre, magical, and history told in contemporary prose where the authentic realism mingles with the unexpected eccentricities - reminiscent of Angelmaker, this novel is a excellent introduction for the Mitchell oeuvre, especially with that shock(ingly good) of a beginning.

Aside: Chapter XVIII, The Surgery on Dejima strongly reminded me of that episode of Deadwood, Requiem for a Gleet. Both involved kidney stones back in the days of primitive, invasive procedures and both is unrelenting in its descriptive agonies of said procedure. I'm so disgusted yet I can't look away. ( )
1 vote kitzyl | Jun 30, 2016 |
In The Thousand Autumns...David Mitchell skillfully blends the grotesquely mystical and historically factual into a seamless whole. In the afterward he talks about historical fiction and offers three reasons for its enduring popularity. This book certainly meets all of his criteria and also touches on one of my favorite genres as well, historical romance. I felt connected to the characters and events despite how little I knew of the Tokugawa period (17th to 19th century) of Japan. ( )
  wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
enjoyed a lot - less convoluted as a plot than his earlier works, but very atmospheric and funny. ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
I loved this book! Shogun-era Japan is such a rich setting (and something I knew nothing about) and the characters and events are so smartly written. I particularly appreciated how many characters you get to know intimately. The trading port lackeys each tell their story and it really added to the overall tale. I would never have guessed the book would be as suspenseful as it was but it was a page-turner. It is easily my favorite book I've read this year and probably last, I cannot recommend it more highly. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell.

There is something about David Mitchell’s writing style that irritates me. I felt this way when I read Cloud Atlas too. This book was the slowest story I’ve read in a long time. It was hard to grasp every scene, event, and the dialogue didn’t have any creative flow to it. I know what the story’s plot was but it was hard to keep tract of the characters because he used them interchangeably to soon so the reader couldn’t keep track between dialogues from Japanese speaking Dutch language or Pidgin English. His style of writing even made settings confusing, either a character was on land or on a ship one minute and somewhere else the next.

The story could have been better. It’s a flexible story of a Dutch trading post outside the area of Nagasaki in the 1800’s. The character seem real and Mitchell did his research well introducing legitimate descriptions of those that were likely there and some truth to the conflicts that arose as the men tried to personally profit, explore Japan or fall in love. There were some references to the Japanese efforts to remove Christianity and the brutal oppression of Christians by the Shogunate that was far worse than and longer than anywhere else in the world. I did like that he gave a voice to the slaves that were brutally exploited by trading company’s and his development of Dr. Marinus character to introduce modern medicine in Japan in somewhat graphic stomach churning details. I also thought creating a gothic melodrama about evil Japanese monks at the monastery and nunnery that kept nuns as brood mares and sold the babies was unrealistic.

The story starts off in the setting of a painful birth followed by the sentencing of Dejima’s previous chief and showed the historic character’s naïve struggle with the culture of corruption on Dejima and the infatuation with a disfigured midwife. The main character is the young Jacob De Zoet who is a bookkeeper who travels with the Dutch East Indies Company to Japan in the hopes of earning enough money to win the hand of Anna, the woman he loves. As Jacob smuggles a family book of psalms into Japan at great risk to himself he also, after some time, falls in love and proposes to a beautiful, intelligent Japanese woman, Orito, a midwife studying European medicine, whose face is severely burned.

As the story goes on the action shifts away from Dejima and re-centers on a cult of evil dogma on a remote mountain, which really destroyed the first half of the story. The book displays many themes and a lot of action. It includes graphic medical operations, beheadings, tortures, carefully planned schemes, and narrow escapes from disaster, poisoning, and much more. The ending was a non-sequitur following with the coming of the British to Nagasaki harbor, leading to a confusing climax and it seems like Mitchell was in a hurry to finish the book….
( )
1 vote Juan-banjo | May 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 248 (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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Epigraph
Dedication
For K, H & N with love
First words
'Miss Kawasemi?' Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. 'Can you hear me?'
Quotations
‘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!
(passion4reading)

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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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