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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A…

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

by David Mitchell

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3,5822161,473 (4.09)3 / 531
Title:The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel
Authors:David Mitchell
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 512 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Japan, Dutch, 1800's, trade, corruption

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. 41
    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. 41
    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 (postvak)
    postvak: 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. 11
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (psybre)
  8. 23
    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.
  9. 56
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (kidzdoc)
    kidzdoc: This is another excellent British historical novel.

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English (211)  Dutch (7)  French (1)  German (1)  Czech (1)  All languages (221)
Showing 1-5 of 211 (next | show all)
I started this bool last year but couldn't get into it. I am SO glad I gave it another try... ( )
  kwbridge | Sep 6, 2014 |
This is not an easy book to read, but it is well worth the effort. Set in Japan in 1799, Jacob de Zout is a young, ambitious and sincere Dutch East Indies clerk determined to make his fortune so that he can marry back in the Netherlands. In this strange world he meets hardened and often unscrupulous employees of the company, Japanese interpreters, and other Dutch merchants out to make their fortunes or on the run from dark pasts. By chance encounter, he meets Orita Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor who is training her as a midwife. The opening chapter of the book presents Orita as the midwife who saves the life of an important concubine to the city of Nagaski's magistrate. The contrast between East and West play out on so many different levels.
There are many characters in this book often called by various names so it can be difficult to follow and the dialogue between the merchants and sailors is sometimes confusing. However, Mitchell is an excellent writer who can create a very exotic setting and environment in which the reader is drawn. The book follows the life of Jacob as intrigue within the company draws out his stay. Eventually, the British arrive determined to take over the trade with Japan and Jacob finds himself at the forefront of this encounter.
The very ending of the book tells of Jacob's final days; an ending not foreseen at the beginning. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 29, 2014 |
For me, the appeal of David Mitchell is his ability to write in any voice and nail it. It's a skill, but I'm sure it also requires significant research. In most of his novels, the reader is entertained by several of these voices from beginning to end. In a couple, Mitchell employs more traditional means and keeps to one story, one time period. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is one of the latter. It's a fairly straight-forward historical novel. But of course Mitchell had to break up the narrative somehow. And this was when the book fell apart.

In The Thousand Autumns..., Mitchell opens a window onto Japan during its period of isolation. The research is clear in the writing, and Mitchell's talents are obvious. Had the narrative stuck with de Zoet, as it does for the first 175 pages, I would've been pleased. But then we're transported to a mountain cult which didn't lend much to the story. Then back to de Zoet briefly, then an English ship, then we're just all over the place for the rest of the book. It's Mitchell's signature style, and it certainly could've worked, but the problem was I didn't care about Orito and her shrine days, I didn't care about the English, I wanted Jacob de Zoet. Wasn't this book supposed to be about him?

I get that Mitchell had set up a chess board here, that certain pieces needed to make certain moves, that other pieces had to fall. I get all that. Largely, I think I understand what he was doing here. But the story became so overwrought that it forgot the most important part: the story. I've always been entertained with Mitchell's writing. Even when I think the story is a poor hack of another author's style (number9dream), or is a bit dry (“The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing”), or is difficult to read (“Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After”), I am entertained. Here, I was frankly bored. I know entertainment isn't everything, but it's a big something, and The Thousand Autumns... could have used more of it. ( )
  chrisblocker | Aug 5, 2014 |

Mr. Mitchell is a very smart man. I feel very, very not-smart next to him. Having read two of his books now, I believe he writes fiction for the pun. Every opportunity he has to exploit the potential for a pun is taken. In fact, I would bet (but I'm not smart enough to determine) that he writes certain scenes to encapsulate puns. ("Let's see, there were 10 in that chapter, that's probably enough, next chapter!")

Not that I don't enjoy it. It's mounds better reading a story that the author is enjoying the hell out of telling versus one that is labored, overly trite, obtuse or any of a number of other plagues that befall authors.

This particular story is not as layered as Cloud Atlas, but it does have layers, so beware in advance. We are supposed to love our protagonist immediately because of his Christian, moral, upstanding ways - which of course are surprisingly similar to the thoughts and feelings of the denizens of his host country. The Japanese in the latter half of the 1700s, and their efforts to encourage and absolutely not encourage trade with the Dutch, sounds like a minute section of history. It is not. It is entrancing and mysterious and disgusting and bizarre and lovely and holy. Mitchell may have taken 500 pages to tell all that, but I dare anyone else to try.

And by no means miss the Reader's Guide at the end of the book. There are several pages devoted to the origins of historical fiction, how it can be difficult to write it, and why we all still love a good historical novel. You'll laugh out loud, believe me or not. ( )
  khage | Aug 4, 2014 |
The central chunk was a good read but there was so much extra material that added nothing to the book that it just became a tedious slog. It reminded me in many ways of what I disliked about The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo.
  amyem58 | Jul 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 211 (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)
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.
Now, however, with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, he has moved on, jettisoned the cross-referencing, and severed the overt links to his previous books. It is interesting but unnecessary to know that the author has lived in Japan, is the father of half-Japanese children, and has set an earlier novel – number9dream (2001) – in the country. Equally, the fact that this new novel centres on a love story between a European man and a Japanese woman represents no more than the most elementary draw from autobiography. Beyond that, it is a self-standing historical novel, written in chronological order in the present tense, which conjures up a profoundly researched and fully realised world.

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Mitchellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aris, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilcox, PaulaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Miss Kawasemi?' Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. 'Can you hear me?'
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.
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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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