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Posted July 13, 2010
David Mitchell is definitely one of the best authors around. This one is quite different from his other books, but is still an intriguing tale set in a very interesting time of feudal Japan. It's fascinating how that society interacts with the Dutch and how they somewhat peacefully co-exist on Dejima. Mitchell has a fascinating way of getting you to believe in the characters from speaking from their point of view (Jacob, Orito, Penhaligon, Ogawa). Now I just have to wait another 4 years for his next one!
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Posted August 10, 2010
An Exceptional Book
"The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" by David Mitchell is an exceptional book which can easily be passed as a romantic historical fiction. The book opens in the last part of the 18th Century in feudal Japan, where the reader is positioned in the middle of a difficult labor of the wife of a Japanese nobleman. The baby dies in the process, however the midwife, Orito, saves him and gets her wish to study medicine with a Dutch doctor named
We are then introduced to Jacob de Zoet, a Dutch clerk from the Dutch West Indies Company dreaming of making a fortune and coming back home to marry his sweetheart. Jacob is an honest man, incorruptible, who is sent by the company's new director to straighten out the corrupt books. Soon Jacob finds himself in Dejima, a small island off of Nagaski where the not-yet-ready-for-foreigners Japanese government performs trade and exchange. Dejima is a universe upon itself filled with corrupt Dutch officials, sailors, Japanese magistrates, interpreters and a few slaves as well.
The naiveté of Jacob causes him to be a small part of a petty corruption fiasco which is then held over his head, leaving him exiled on Dejima. Jacob's honesty proves to be his blessing and his curse, as he constantly misses signals from his Dutch companions as well as the Japanese business associates, which are comical to the reader but have devastating results for Jacob.
Jacob and Orito meet, and Jacob falls in love with her - only to try and rescue her from an unspeakable evil planned and executed by her step mother and a Japanese priest who sucks the life out of living creatures. How does a lowly Dutch clerk takes on an evil sadist who makes Dumas' Richelieu seem like the Pope?
That is the genius of this novel which equally contrasts the Dutch and Japanese perspectives while preserving a mystery and allows honor and decorum triumph over corruption and wickedness.
The first part of the novel is wonderful, the story is interesting, the setting fascinating and the prose is fantastic. Mitchell's writing is fabulous, the language is rich and extravagant and the story flows. The author's humor shines through the book as he incorporates little snippets of haiku among the narrative.
The second part however is overflowing with bizarre tragedy and the narrative constantly relies on the "meanwhile back at the farm (temple)" jumps in story. The large cast, which was so eloquently introduced in the first part, seems to be a burden in the latter part. The character studies so fluently staged are now disconnected across time and ocean.
"The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet"is an epic which is meant to be read slowly and deliberately, the tale is smart and the story is fun. Even though the book incorporates shoguns and samurais, most of the account is carried by clerks and translators. The epic rescue attempt in a sanctuary surrounded by snow capped mountains is no less exciting than the description of diplomatic rituals and the "arse-licking pilgrimage" one must make before meeting the shogun. FOR MORE REVIEWS PLEASE VISIT: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com
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Posted July 26, 2010
Equal Parts Page-Turner and Work of Art
Even more of a work of art if you get the UK hardcover edition -- beautiful cover, and far more evocative of the story than the U.S. version. I loved this book for its cinematic, poetic, adventurous, historical and fanciful qualities, all there in equal measure. You can find a wordy description of the plot elsewhere -- my purpose in writing is to urge you to allow yourself to be put under David Mitchell's spell and enjoy this amazing book.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 23, 2010
Another gem from David Mitchell
David Mitchell is one of the best contemporary authors writing. No one supercedes his storytelling talents and his ability to draw fully realized, complex characters. "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet" is another gem, following the experiences of Jacob de Zoet on a small man-made island that is an outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company off teh coast of Nagasaki Japan at the turn of the 19th century. Time is a major theme in the novel, as Mitchell uses unique devices to remind the reader of the relentless march of time (the number of full bottles of alcohol remaining at a poker game, the bells of Nagasaki marking the hours, a sailor on a ship marking the depth of the water) as we mortals try to navigate our way in the inexorable evolution of the world and society. The choices that Jacob makes throughout his life have profound impacts on his own future, but also on Nagasaki society and British-Japanese relations. The characters, story and setting are richly illuminated, and hte outcomes fantastic, yet totally believable. I was saddened, like with all truly great books, when I finished the novel, and realized that I would have to wait through an indeterminate hiatus until the next Mitchell jewel.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 7, 2010
Mitchell has reminded me why he's my favorite contemporary author
've been saying for years that David Mitchell is one one of my favorite authors, but with yeas passing since I read (or re-read) his work, I forgot why. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet reminded me.
This book is much more of a traditional novel than Mitchell's other works, which probably leans more toward being a good thing than a bad thing--it doesn't have the gimmicky feel of some of his other books. Mitchell remains true to his avant garde voice--the "gulls..." passage near the end of the book, for instance, is phenomenal, and begs to be read out-loud.
Mitchell's storytelling is incredible, the characters real. (For the most part, I was a little annoyed that the alignment of a character on the side of "good" or "bad" could be discerned by their attitudes towards slavery and Christianity) The story lines were all engrossing, and, without giving anything away, the ending had me in tears.
That being said, the first part was a bit slow, and I had a hard time keeping the names and characters straight. By the time the second part rolled around, though, I had a hard time putting it down.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is, in my opinion, Mitchell's best book so far. It's one that I look forward to re-reading, and am already vigorously recommending to family and friends.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
I enjoyed this so much I am now reading David Mitchell's other novels
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - the story being wonderfully creative, the characters memorable and the writing, well, gorgeous for the lack of a better word. For "literary fiction" this was a page-turner that I read over the course of several days while on vacation.
Since finishing this book I have read "Number 9 Dream" and have almost finished "Ghostwritten" and have found that Mr. Mitchell is a wildly creative/inventive writer who seems to be able to write "different" books every time - unlike so many other writers that do the same story/style every time they publish a new book.
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Posted September 1, 2011
Beautiful and memorable.
This is a truly extraordinary historical novel. It takes place in Japan at the end of the 18th century, a time when Japan was intentionally isolating itself from the outside world.
Sound off-putting, and just too foreign? No, don't let the setting or the strange title discourage you from opening this book. (Japan is the "Land of a Thousand Autumns," Jacob is a young Dutchman a world away from his homeland.) It is a fascinating tale, written with beauty and clarity. And, it's exciting. My guess is, if you loved "Doctor Zivago," you'll probably love "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet."
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Posted April 28, 2011
A Thousand Reasons to Read This Book
Okay, there may not actually be a THOUSAND reasons to read this book, but there are many. This is a book to be relished on many levels. It is historical fiction that actually lives and breathes, the kind that teaches without being didactic. There's adventure and pathos and a page-turning plot, along with some of the finest descriptive writing around today. Japan at the end of the 18th c is a country about to burst and a social order about to disintigrate; in this book we see the last days of the old order through both Eastern and Western eyes. This book is about people whose lives are as much on the edge as Japan itself. The subtly-drawn characters are as appealing as they are human. Whether you settle in for a marathon reading session or dip into this book chapter by chapter, you are sure to enjoy the unravelling tale.
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Posted January 31, 2014
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet By David Mitchell 4 Stars
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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet By David Mitchell
The titled character, Jacob de Zoet, is sent to Dejima in 1799 for a period of five years. He goes originally to win the favor of his sweethearts father so that he may return successful and marry her. Dejima is a created island that is the Japanese's single port and really their only touch with world affairs. They are very much steeped in tradition, power and oppression. Jacob goes there as a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company; he is to check the books and make sure all is right.
Shortly after Jacob's arrival he learns quite a few things. There is vast corruption that does not pay to uncover, tremendous power in a small few and oppressing tradition all around. Jacob meets a woman named Orito Aibagawa who is a beautiful albeit scarred daughter of a samurai and midwife to a magistrate of Dejima. Jacob is entranced and his far off love all but forgotten. The rules of protocol make anything further virutally impossible. Orito is lucky to even be allowed on Dejima as any females there are "wives" and courteseans only which makes her even more off limits. The role of women in Japan is a very specific one at this point in time and Orito is attempting to break all the rules.
What follows is a lot of love and hate, oppression, corruption, tradition, history, intrigue and much more. There is a lot going on in this novel. Characters change and grow and are tested to their very limits. I think Mitchell did a good job of keeping all of this straight and incorporating the history of the time.
This was my second go round for this, the audio was just too much and I did not get very far. I was missing out on a lot so when I started it in print it caught me. The beginning grabbed me this time and then I got into the historical/social aspects of the story. What I thought was absolutely boring was not this time. Which really surprised me given the subject matter that I normally am not at all interested in. The society, class structures and pomp and circumstance pulled me in. It was nitty gritty and made me thankful I did not have to live through something like that. Of course I would have been burned at the stake long before for my red hair or died in child birth so I guess it's not all so bad.
I did feel that some parts were a little slower. The business aspects were a bit much sometimes. Having read two of his other novels that did not bother me because they are all tied together in some way. Mitchell's separations can be jarring, but end up being part of the bigger picture. I do wish there had been more on Ogawa and Orito but I was ok that there wasn't.
Overall this book has stuck with me and I am glad that I gave it another chance. Can't wait to see what Mr. Mitchell has in store for us next. He is unique and has an extraordinary imagination with real creative ingenuity.
Posted June 13, 2013
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the fifth novel by awar
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the fifth novel by award-winning British author, David Mitchell, who classifies it as historical fiction. Jacob de Zoet is a young Dutch clerk, a Zeelander working for the Dutch East India Company, on a five-year clerical post to Java, where he hopes to make his fortune in order to marry his Dutch sweetheart. He arrives in Nagasaki with the new Chief Resident-elect of Dejima, an island enclave to which the Dutch traders are confined. Soon after his arrival, he encounters a young Japanese midwife with whom he promptly falls in love. Mitchell slowly and carefully crafts his plot to reach a dramatic climax. Mitchell’s potted histories of his characters contribute to their depth and appeal, as well as developing the plot. His dialogue sounds genuine, especially the rendering of translated language. Mitchell gives the reader a fascinating peek into the world that was European trade with Japan in the late 18th century. This was a world filled with corruption, bribery, execution and religious persecution. De Zoet learns the diplomacy and the political tactics necessary in dealing with the Japanese, and that men of honour and integrity are few and far between. This novel makes the historical facts, which might have been dry and unpalatable, interesting and easy to assimilate. De Zoet is loosely based on Hendrick Doeff, one of Dejima’s real Chief Residents. Mitchell does bend a few historical facts: the incident on which the climax is based actually happened somewhat later; the reference by characters in 1799 to the mass eradication of Tasmanian aborigines is premature; nonetheless, this does not detract from the novel in any way. Some of the prose is truly beautiful: Mitchell manages to be quite lyrical about clouds and weather; there are also several charming illustrations. This is a brilliant novel and easily the best I have read in a long time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2013
Posted October 26, 2012
What on earth is this "Oriental obsession" of his? If
What on earth is this "Oriental obsession" of his? If this is all he is going to continue to write about, I'll never read him again. I have nothing against Orientals, but I don't want to just read about them all the time. A little variety here, please!
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Posted September 19, 2012
Posted December 14, 2011
Posted November 19, 2011
His finest work to date.
Mitchell is one of my favorite authors and has been since i first read "Ghostwritten" many years ago. The "Thousand Autumns..." is in my opinion Mitchell's finest achievement to date. His command of language is as always stunning and a pleasure to experience, but equally important and amazing is his ability to portray characters from diverse cultures in a way that is true to their reported culture and yet which fully portrays their common humanity as well. I suspect that he must truly fall in love with each of his many characters as he creates them and it is that love which brings them to life and which shines through what he has them do and say. And having mentioned the word love, it is love that is particularly on display in this novel and not in any simplistic or hackneyed way. It is a study of humanity that truly rewards the reader as he lives it along with the characters of this book. I look forward to reading his next novel whenever it may appear.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 20, 2011
Elegantly written, but a bit too slow for me.
This novel and I did not get along. There were sections that were beautifully written, but in between those were long spans of overly descriptive text that I really did not have the energy to appreciate. As interesting as pieces of this novel were, it's really the most frustrating love story ever. Jacob is totally infatuated with Orito and as decades pass, they cross paths maybe four times (I lost count)? This would be great if Orito felt the same way about him, but she doesn't, so the periods in between their meetings are long, painful stretches where Jacob continues to imagine how it could be between the two of them.
My book club discussed it last week and although most of us agreed that the writing is beautiful, many agreed that the pace was questionable. It's one of those books where nothing happens. Some could argue that lots happened, but really. I would have to disagree with that. One member pointed out that long periods of isolation would drag out like that. I thought that was an interesting comment and then started to think that the structure of the novel was intentionally laid out that way.but then I thought the opposite. Not sure why.
This is not a book to skim. You have to take your time with it and perhaps I just didn't have enough time to devote to it, because it's well-received by many. For now, I will part ways with David Mitchell but in a year or two, I wouldn't be surprised if I picked up one of his other books (Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green) because the writing was beautiful and some of the characters were quite vividly drawn.
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Posted May 16, 2011
Solid, well-researched historical fiction
Jacob De Zoet, an inconsequential clerk, hopes to make his fortune in Japan and return to the Netherlands to marry his sweetheart. But life on Dejima, the Dutch trading post in early 19th Century Nagasaki harbor, does not always follow the chosen path of her inhabitants.
A bright young man, Jacob De Zoet was fairly certain of his ability to make a fortune and a reputation working for the Dutch East India trading company on Dejima, their island trading enclave in Nagasaki harbor, thereby rendering him acceptable to the father of the girl he wants to marry.
Jacob is a very solid character; he stands strong in his integrity-to the point of injuring his future prospects and rendering his fictional self an almost unbelievable character. Author David Mitchell does a good job sketching a stable, solid character, but Jacob is so righteous that I had trouble accepting him. He is clearly shown to be a very religious man-however, no man is perfect, and Jacob would have felt a bit more credible had he been a bit more flawed.
In its historical feel, the book reminded me a lot of James Clavell's Shogun, although certainly not as broad in scope; Thousand Autumns paints a vivid picture of the time and place in which it is set.
While I was disappointed in the characterization of Jacob, I must admit that the plot does not follow a predictable path, either in his life nor in the lives of his fellows. Some aspects of the plot I found unbelievable, some I loved for how well they wove Japanese culture into the framework of the book, and some simply did not leave me feeling fulfilled (in other words, did not resolve the way I wanted them to resolve).
I chose, based upon several recommendations, to listen to this one on audio; I had been well advised to do so. Narrators Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox both do an excellent job breathing life into their subjects. Overall, this is a solid piece of historical fiction which gets my recommendation both as a novel and as a riveting audio performance. It will definitely have me seeking out other works by David Mitchell.
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Posted January 3, 2011
Great book -- fascinating read -- wonderful story!
I found this book as one of very few novels recommended from the past year in Christian Century magazine. It's a great story of a Dutch lad in a foreign culture as Japan was in the 19th century. It's a fast read for a 500 page book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 24, 2011
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Posted July 24, 2010
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