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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (original 2010; edition 2011)

by David Mitchell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,0162421,272 (4.08)3 / 625
Member:Bal
Title:The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Authors:David Mitchell
Info:Random House Inc. (2011), Perfect Paperback, 502 pages
Collections:Your library (inactive)
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Historical Fiction

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
    A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth L. Ozeki (sturlington)
  9. 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.
  10. 12
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (psybre)
  11. 47
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (kidzdoc)
    kidzdoc: This is another excellent British historical novel.
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English (239)  Dutch (7)  French (1)  German (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (249)
Showing 1-5 of 239 (next | show all)


Didn't feel this was as good as Cloud Atlas, and even though the story was just getting on I gave up and moved on. ( )
  ellohull | Feb 10, 2016 |
After reading 'Cloud Atlas,' I wanted to read something else by Mitchell, and this is the one that showed up on paperbackswap!

Describing it to someone last night, I said: "Well, it starts off historical, gets a little bit fantastic, becomes absolutely horrific, but mostly it's historical."

Set in 1799, the titular character, Jacob de Zoet, is a Dutch trader who's been sent to Japan in hopes of making his fortune and winning permission to marry the woman he loves. But across the world, with a five-year term of employment, a lot can happen.

The book is exquisitely researched - the background is more than believable, and the writing is wonderful. However, Mitchell doesn't let any literary pretensions hold him back. As I said, some of the stuff here is straight out of a sensationalist supernatural horror novel (and I loved it.)
He also writes a lot of random details that are gross just for their gross-out factor... "earthy," one might call it, and that I could do without.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the book. The ending/epilogue was really well done, too... it had a plot that was slightly hard to manage without screwing it up, I thought, and Mitchell did an excellent job.

Definitely planning on reading more from this author. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
I don't know how this book was written before The Bone Clocks, unless Mitchell was planning them at the same time. The connections are too small and intricate for me to imagine. I can't say how the experience might have been different if I hadn't read The Bone Clocks first, but I'm glad I did. It's not necessary to the story, it's just another element of that interconnectedness that's always a feature of Mitchell's works.

Reading this book wasn't always pleasant. The Thousand Autumns is set at the very end of the 1700s, which is a rough time in global history. European nations in particular are just barging around the world, deciding they should rule places and the people who already live there. Medical and scientific knowledge are still in their most fledgling stages. Japan is completely closed to outsiders, except for an exclusive and very limited trade relationship with the Dutch East India Company. In 1799, Jacob de Zoet arrives on Dejima, the artificial island that is the only part of Japan open to the Dutch.

I picked up this book wanting it to confirm my suspicion that David Mitchell's my newest favorite author. It ended up being more complicated than that; because of the setting, it took me much longer to settle in and reach that rhythm I'd loved so much in Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks. And because of some pretty awful things that happen in the book, I was too apprehensive almost until the very end to be able to say whether or not I liked it—not until I knew how it was going to turn out.

But all is well: I did like it, and I'm still thinking about it a couple days later. In fact, I think it's preventing me from picking anything else up. Maybe when I finish this review I'll be able to move on (probably to another of his books, since I raided the library last week and brought home all I could find).

I love the way David Mitchell's books think about the world, and the way they make me think. I love the variety in his characters, protagonists and antagonists, and the fact that you're not always sure who is which. I really love the physical books themselves, which always have beautiful covers and fonts I like looking at and a heft that for some reason makes me ignore my usual preference for paperbacks over hardcover, even when I switch arms and realize that my non-dominant arm is not strong enough to hold the book for more than a few seconds. David Mitchell is making me exercise, and not just my brain. What more do you want from a book?
  mirikayla | Feb 8, 2016 |
Didn't like this, got only 50 pages or so into it. ( )
  KathyGilbert | Jan 29, 2016 |
Mitchell succeeds in this historical novel much in the way that he has in each of the other genres he has tackled. A good (if slow at the beginning) story and finely wrought characters combine for a satisfying read. A tale of how fate can seem to rob us of certain types of decisions. Full of gritty detail, it is romantic without being sentimental. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 239 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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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