Mitchell’s rightly been hailed as a virtuoso genius for his genre-bending, fiercely intelligent novels Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas. Now he takes something of a busman’s holiday with this majestic historical romance set in turn-of-the-19th-century Japan, where young, naïve Jacob de Zoet arrives on the small manmade island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor as part of a contingent of Dutch East Indies officials charged with cleaning up the trading station’s entrenched culture of corruption. Though engaged to be married in the Netherlands, he quickly falls in hopeless love with Orito Aibagawa, a Dutch-trained Japanese midwife and promising student of Marinus, the station’s resident physician. Their “courtship” is strained, as foreigners are prohibited from setting foot on the Japanese mainland, and the only relationships permitted between Japanese women and foreign men on Dejima are of the paid variety. Jacob has larger trouble, though; when he refuses to sign off on a bogus shipping manifest, his stint on Dejima is extended and he’s demoted, stuck in the service of a vengeful fellow clerk. Meanwhile, Orito’s father dies deeply in debt, and her stepmother sells her into service at a mountaintop shrine where her midwife skills are in high demand, she soon learns, because of the extraordinarily sinister rituals going on in the secretive shrine. This is where the slow-to-start plot kicks in, and Mitchell pours on the heat with a rescue attempt by Orito’s first love, Uzaemon, who happens to be Jacob’s translator and confidant. Mitchell’s ventriloquism is as sharp as ever; he conjures men of Eastern and Western science as convincingly as he does the unscrubbed sailor rabble. Though there are more than a few spots of embarrassingly bad writing (“How scandalized Nagasaki shall be, thinks Uzaemon, if the truth is ever known”), Mitchell’s talent still shines through, particularly in the novel’s riveting final act, a pressure-cooker of tension, character work, and gorgeous set pieces. It’s certainly no Cloud Atlas, but it is a dense and satisfying historical with literary brawn and stylistic panache. (July)
The most consistenly interesting novelist of his generation.
Christian Science Monitor
When a Dutch trader falls in love with a Japanese midwife who is also the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor in 19th-century Japan, you can be sure that the emotional and cultural clashes will be significant. THE THOUSAND AUTUMS OF JACOB DE ZOET is a historical romance novel by David Mitchell, gifted author of "Cloud Atlas" and "Black Swan Green." Here, Mitchell melds history and literature into a satisfying blend.
Despite the audacious scope, the focus remains intimate; each fascinating character has the opportunity to share his or her story. Everything is patched together seamlessly and interwoven with clever wordplay and enlightening historical details on feudal Japan. First-rate literary fiction and a rousing good yarn, too.
If any readers have doubted that David Mitchell is phenomenally talented and capable of vaulting wonders on the page, they have been heretofore silent. Mitchell is almost universally acknowledged as the real deal. His best-known book, Cloud Atlas, is one of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt isand should beread by any student of contemporary fiction…[The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet] confirms Mitchell as one of the more fascinating and fearless writers alive.
The New York Times Book Review
By any standards, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a formidable marvel.
The New Yorker
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.
The New York Times
Two-time Man Booker Prize nominee Mitchell's fifth novel is an outstanding historical epic that brings to life early 19th-century xenophobic Japan. Divided into five parts, it opens with the title character's stint on the quarantined Dutch outpost of Dejima, where he falls in love with a local midwife who is later sold into service to pay off her late father's debts. British actors Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox maintain order amid this swirling narrative populated by myriad colorful characters. Though some of the passages are a bit awkward, this book will nonetheless interest Mitchell devotees and fans of history-based adventures. [The New York Times best-selling Random hc received a starred review, LJ 4/15/10.—Ed.]—Denise A. Garofalo, Mount Saint Mary Coll. Lib., Newburgh, NY
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 (Black Swan Green, 2006, etc.). In yet another departure from the postmodern Pynchonian intricacy of his earlier fiction, this is the story of a devout young Dutch Calvinist (the eponymous Jacob) sent in 1799 to Japan, where the Dutch East India Company, aka the VOC, had opened trade routes more than two centuries earlier. But now the Company is threatened by the envious British Empire, which seeks to appropriate the Far East's rich commercial opportunities. Jacob's purpose is to acquire sufficient wealth and experience to earn the hand of his fiancee Anna. But his mission is to serve as a ship's clerk while simultaneously investigating charges of corruption against the Company's powerful Chief Resident. When a scandal involving the seizure of the much-desired commodity of copper is manipulated to implicate Jacob, he is posted to the artificially constructed island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, becoming a de facto prisoner of an insular little world of rigorously patterned and controlled cultural-and commercial-rituals. Meanwhile, the story of Aibagawa Orita, a facially disfigured (hence unmarriageable) midwife authorized to study with the Company's doctor (the saturnine Marinus, a kind of Pangloss to Jacob's earnest Candide), punished for having aspired beyond her station, and the moving story of her planned escape from servitude and reunion with the beloved (Uzaeman) forbidden to marry her (which contains deft echoes of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Ondaatje's The English Patient), mocks, as it exalts, Jacob's concealed love for this extraordinary woman. The story climaxes as British forces challenge the Dutch hold on the East's riches, and Jacob's long ordeal hurtles toward its conclusion. It's as difficult to put this novel down as it is to overestimate Mitchell's virtually unparalleled mastery of dramatic construction, illuminating characterizations and insight into historical conflict and change. Comparisons to Tolstoy are inevitable, and right on the money.
…[Mitchell] startles us again with a rich historical romance set in feudal Japan, an epic of sacrificial love, clashing civilizations and enemies who won't rest until whole family lines have been snuffed out. Yes, the novelist who's been showing us the future of fiction has published a classic, old-fashioned tale. It's not too early to suggest that Mitchell can triumph in any genre he chooses.
The Washington Post
Paul La Farge
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell's fifth novel, is a historical romance set in Shogunate Japan, when the country was closed to all but a handful of foreigners, mostly Dutch and Chinese traders confined to the tiny artificial island of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay. Enter, into this interesting isolation, Unico Vorstenbosch, a new Chief sent by the Dutch East India Company to clean up Deshima's corruption, and his clerk, Jacob de Zoet, poor, pious, eager to earn enough money to go home and marry his sweetheart. What follows is a drama that brings to mind the galloping action of James Clavell's Shogun: it features deception, betrayal, love, theft, war, graphic depictions of midwifery and kidney-stone removal, games of cards, billiards and go, as well as a daring raid on a mountain abbey where unspeakable practices are, well, practiced, to sustain the life of the monks.
This is entertaining stuff, though it may seem slightly odd to readers who know Mitchell for his novel Cloud Atlas, which nested multiple narratives, set in eras ranging from the 1850s to the post-apocalyptic future, like ingeniously conceived Russian dolls. The Thousand Autumns eschews such devices: it unfurls like a scroll, from start to finish, often following de Zoet, but forsaking him for long passages to inhabit the mind of Orito Aibagawa, a Japanese midwife with whom de Zoet falls in love; the interpreter Uzaemon Ogawa; the captain of an English warship, and others. These shifts give Mitchell the chance to "do voices," or rather, to do worlds: the court of Nagasaki's Magistrate, the warehouses of Deshima, the decks of a warship. His Japan is meticulously researched (it probably didn't hurt that he lived in Hiroshima for eight years) and his Dutchmen, too. (De Zoet has a real-life model, Hendrik Doeff, who served the Dutch East India Co. on Deshima from 1803 to 1818.) Indeed, there are places in the novel where Mitchell gives vent to a Bolaño-like excess of detail, as when the Dutch scientist Dr. Marinus gives a lecture to a group of Japanese students, and Uzaemon struggles to translate:
Uzaemon does his best to translate this, but it isn't easy: surely the Dutch word 'semen' cannot be related to this unknown verb 'disseminate'? Goto Shinpachi anticipates his colleague's difficulty and suggests 'distribute.' Uzaemon guesses 'germinate' means 'is accepted,' but is warned by suspicious glances from the Shirandō's audience: If we don't understand the speaker, we blame the interpreter.
The description is so precise that it's practically educational: you could learn how to deliver a baby from this book, or fire a ship's gun, or identify a few Japanese characters. So much attention to the minutia of procedure slows the narrative to the courtly pace of Noh theater, but Mitchell is a good enough storyteller that the book rarely bogs down.
At the same time, I couldn't help feeling that the sharpness of his rendering covers up, or perhaps accompanies, a certain rigidity of character. Jacob de Zoet is not unsympathetic, but at bottom he's a competent prig, like Julien Sorel in The Red and the Black, but without Julien's ambition, or his weakness. He falls in love with Orito Aibagawa because she happens to come into his office (looking for a monkey who has stolen a corpse's foot: another lovely detail), and because she is, like him, unflappable; whether she touches any deeper chord in him, or even whether there exists in him a deeper chord to touch, remains a mystery. Having declared his affection for Orito, de Zoet is briefly ecstatic:
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 like to call it 'Love.'
It's a lovely sentiment, but one which seems to come less from Jacob's heart than from the psalter which he has brought (against regulations) to Japan: a family psalter, which has guarded the hearts of the de Zoets, literally, for generations.
It may simply be that the space in which de Zoet is permitted to act is too small for him to reveal much of himself. Decorum and close quarters discourage the residents of Deshima from histrionics; the conflicts that arise on the island are of loyalty and betrayal, comprehension and incomprehension, tests which might prove the excellence of a dog, but are not so good at illuminating the intricacies of human character. Thus the Dutch: but actually no one in the novel has much room to move. Uzaemon Ogawa is impelled by his love for Orito to embark on a perilous adventure; once that wheel is set in motion, it simply turns, until it reaches the point where it has to stop, having revealed nothing more about Uzaemon than that he's an honorable fellow who sees things through to the end. Even Orito, given the most harrowing decision in the novel, chooses duty over desire. With the notable exception of the English captain Penhaligon, who is the most complex character in The Thousand Autumns, although he only occupies part of its last third, Mitchell's people are like go stones, stolidly occupying their places on the novel's grid, largely unaware of the part they play in the larger design. (As for the book's obligatory go master, Abbot Enomoto, he's even worse: his final words partake of a kind of stock villainy that makes Frank Miller look like Henry James.)
All of this would be fine if The Thousand Autumns were a novel of ideas, but it isn't, and that's the strangest thing about it. I don't miss the formal innovation of Cloud Atlas, which seemed to me like another cloaking device, a rapid alternation of narratives to distract the reader from the predictable course of each story in itself; but no other aspect of the novel comes forward to provoke thought. There is some play between science, as represented by Dr. Marinus and de Zoet and Orito, and magic, which is the domain of the nefarious Enomoto; there's even a moment when Marinus suggests provokingly that "science itself is in the early stages of becoming sentient." But these intellectual currents don't have much effect on the course of the novel. What triumphs in the end is neither science nor magic, but honesty and resignation and pluckiness in the face of all odds. There's a great deal of very interesting history in the novel, regarding European mercantilism and Japan at the dawn of the nineteenth century, but it is resolutely unallegorical, and speaks only of itself. Which leaves The Thousand Autumns in the situation of the country which is its subject: rich, intriguing, and cut off by inexplicable barriers from the rest of the world.
--Paul La Farge
From the Publisher
“A page-turner . . . [David] Mitchell’s masterpiece; and also, I am convinced, a masterpiece of our time.”—Richard Eder, The Boston Globe
“An achingly romantic story of forbidden love . . . Mitchell’s incredible prose is on stunning display. . . . A novel of ideas, of longing, of good and evil and those who fall somewhere in between [that] confirms Mitchell as one of the more fascinating and fearless writers alive.”—Dave Eggers, The New York Times Book Review
“The novelist who’s been showing us the future of fiction has published a classic, old-fashioned tale . . . an epic of sacrificial love, clashing civilizations and enemies who won’t rest until whole family lines have been snuffed out.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“By any standards, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a formidable marvel.”—James Wood, The New Yorker
“A beautiful novel, full of life and authenticity, atmosphere and characters that breathe.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR
Read an Excerpt
The House of Kawasemi the Concubine, above Nagasaki
The ninth night of the fifth month
"Miss kawasemi?" orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. "Can you hear me?"
In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates.
Orito dabs the concubine's sweat-drenched face with a damp cloth.
"She's barely spoken"-the maid holds the lamp-"for hours and hours. . . ."
"Miss Kawasemi, I'm Aibagawa. I'm a midwife. I want to help."
Kawasemi's eyes ﬂicker open. She manages a frail sigh. Her eyes shut.
She is too exhausted, Orito thinks, even to fear dying tonight.
Dr. Maeno whispers through the muslin curtain. "I wanted to examine the child's presentation myself, but . . ." The elderly scholar chooses his words with care. "But this is prohibited, it seems."
"My orders are clear," states the chamberlain. "No man may touch her."
Orito lifts the bloodied sheet and ﬁnds, as warned, the fetus's limp arm, up to the shoulder, protruding from Kawasemi's vagina.
"Have you ever seen such a presentation?" asks Dr. Maeno.
"Yes: in an engraving, from the Dutch text Father was translating."
"This is what I prayed to hear! The Observations of William Smellie?"
"Yes: Dr. Smellie terms it," Orito uses the Dutch, " 'Prolapse of the Arm.' "
Orito clasps the fetus's mucus-smeared wrist to search for a pulse.
Maeno now asks her in Dutch, "What are your opinions?"
There is no pulse. "The baby is dead," Orito answers, in the same language, "and the mother will die soon, if the child is not delivered." She places her ﬁngertips on Kawasemi's distended belly and probes the bulge around the inverted navel. "It was a boy." She kneels between Kawasemi's parted legs, noting the narrow pelvis, and sniffs the bulging labia: she detects the malty mixture of grumous blood and excrement, but not the stench of a rotted fetus. "He died one or two hours ago."
Orito asks the maid, "When did the waters break?"
The maid is still mute with astonishment at hearing a foreign language.
"Yesterday morning, during the Hour of the Dragon," says the stony- voiced housekeeper. "Our lady entered labor soon after."
"And when was the last time that the baby kicked?"
"The last kick would have been around noon today."
"Dr. Maeno, would you agree the infant is in"-she uses the Dutch term-"the 'transverse breech position' "
"Maybe," the doctor answers in their code tongue, "but without an examination . . ."
"The baby is twenty days late, or more. It should have been turned."
"Baby's resting," the maid assures her mistress. "Isn't that so, Dr. Maeno?"
"What you say"-the honest doctor wavers-"may well be true."
"My father told me," Orito says, "Dr. Uragami was overseeing the birth."
"So he was," grunts Maeno, "from the comfort of his consulting rooms. After the baby stopped kicking, Uragami ascertained that, for geomantic reasons discernible to men of his genius, the child's spirit is reluctant to be born. The birth henceforth depends on the mother's willpower." The rogue, Maeno needs not add, dares not bruise his reputation by presiding over the stillbirth of such an estimable man's child. "Chamberlain Tomine then persuaded the magistrate to summon me. When I saw the arm, I recalled your doctor of Scotland and requested your help."
"My father and I are both deeply honored by your trust," says Orito . . .
. . . and curse Uragami, she thinks, for his lethal reluctance to lose face.
Abruptly, the frogs stop croaking and, as though a curtain of noise falls away, the sound of Nagasaki can be heard, celebrating the safe arrival of the Dutch ship.
"If the child is dead," says Maeno in Dutch, "we must remove it now."
"I agree." Orito asks the housekeeper for warm water and strips of linen and uncorks a bottle of Leiden salts under the concubine's nose to win her a few moments' lucidity. "Miss Kawasemi, we are going to deliver your child in the next few minutes. First, may I feel inside you?"
The concubine is seized by the next contraction and loses her ability to answer.
warm water is delivered in two copper pans as the agony subsides. "We should confess," Dr. Maeno proposes to Orito in Dutch, "the baby is dead. Then amputate the arm to deliver the body."
"First, I wish to insert my hand to learn whether the body is in a convex lie or concave lie."
"If you can discover that without cutting the arm"-Maeno means "amputate"-"do so."
Orito lubricates her right hand with rapeseed oil and addresses the maid: "Fold one linen strip into a thick pad . . . yes, like so. Be ready to wedge it between your mistress's teeth; otherwise she might bite off her tongue. Leave spaces at the sides, so she can breathe. Dr. Maeno, my inspection is beginning."
"You are my eyes and ears, Miss Aibagawa," says the doctor.
Orito works her ﬁngers between the fetus's biceps and its mother's ruptured labia until half her wrist is inside Kawasemi's vagina. The concubine shivers and groans. "Sorry," says Orito, "sorry . . ." Her ﬁngers slide between warm membranes and skin and muscle still wet with amniotic ﬂuid, and the midwife pictures an engraving from that enlightened and barbaric realm, Europe . . .
If the transverse lie is convex, recalls Orito, where the fetus's spine is arched backward so acutely that its head appears between its shins like a Chinese acrobat, she must amputate the fetus's arm, dismember its corpse with toothed forceps, and extract it, piece by grisly piece. Dr. Smellie warns that any remnant left in the womb will fester and may kill the mother. If the transverse lie is concave, however, Orito has read, where the fetus's knees are pressed against its chest, she may saw off the arm, rotate the fetus, insert crotchets into the eye sockets, and extract the whole body, headﬁrst. The midwife's index ﬁnger locates the child's knobbly spine, traces its midriff between its lowest rib and its pelvic bone, and encounters a minute ear; a nostril; a mouth; the umbilical cord; and a prawn-sized penis. "Breech is concave," Orito reports to Dr. Maeno, "but the cord is around the neck."
"Do you think the cord can be released?" Maeno forgets to speak Dutch.
"Well, I must try. Insert the cloth," Orito tells the maid, "now, please."
When the linen wad is secured between Kawasemi's teeth, Orito pushes her hand in deeper, hooks her thumb around the embryo's cord, sinks four ﬁngers into the underside of the fetus's jaw, pushes back his head, and slides the cord over his face, forehead, and crown. Kawasemi screams, hot urine trickles down Orito's forearm, but the procedure works ﬁrst time: the noose is released. She withdraws her hand and reports, "The cord is freed. Might the doctor have his"-there is no Japanese word-"forceps?"
"I brought them along," Maeno taps his medical box, "in case."
"We might try to deliver the child"-she switches to Dutch-"without amputating the arm. Less blood is always better. But I need your help."
Dr. Maeno addresses the chamberlain: "To help save Miss Kawasemi's life, I must disregard the magistrate's orders and join the midwife inside the curtain."
Chamberlain Tomine is caught in a dangerous quandary.
"You may blame me," Maeno suggests, "for disobeying the magistrate."
"The choice is mine," decides the chamberlain. "Do what you must, Doctor."
The spry old man crawls under the muslin, holding his curved tongs.
When the maid sees the foreign contraption, she exclaims in alarm.
" 'Forceps,' " the doctor replies, with no further explanation.
The housekeeper lifts the muslin to see. "No, I don't like the look of that! Foreigners may chop, slice, and call it 'medicine,' but it is quite unthinkable that-"
"Do I advise the housekeeper," growls Maeno, "on where to buy ﬁsh?"
"Forceps," explains Orito, "don't cut-they turn and pull, just like a midwife's ﬁngers but with a stronger grip . . ." She uses her Leiden salts again. "Miss Kawasemi, I'm going to use this instrument"-she holds up the forceps-"to deliver your baby. Don't be afraid, and don't resist. Europeans use them routinely-even for princesses and queens. We'll pull your baby out, gently and ﬁrmly."
"Do so . . ." Kawasemi's voice is a smothered rattle. "Do so . . ."
"Thank you, and when I ask Miss Kawasemi to push . . ."
"Push . . ." She is fatigued almost beyond caring. "Push . . ."
"How often," Tomine peers in, "have you used that implement?"
Orito notices the chamberlain's crushed nose for the ﬁrst time: it is as severe a disﬁgurement as her own burn. "Often, and no patient ever suffered." Only Maeno and his pupil know that these "patients" were hollowed-out melons whose babies were oiled gourds. For the ﬁnal time, if all goes well, she works her hand inside Kawasemi's womb. Her ﬁngers ﬁnd the fetus's throat, rotate his head toward the cervix, slip, gain a surer purchase, and swivel the awkward corpse through a third turn. "Now, please, Doctor."
Maeno slides in the forceps around the protruding arm.
The onlookers gasp; a parched shriek is wrenched from Kawasemi.
Orito feels the forceps' curved blades in her palm: she maneuvers them around the fetus's soft skull. "Close them."
Gently but ﬁrmly, the doctor squeezes the forceps shut.
Orito takes the forceps' handles in her left hand: the resistance is spongy but ﬁrm, like konnyaku jelly. Her right hand, still inside the uterus, cups the fetus's skull.
Dr. Maeno's bony ﬁngers encase Orito's wrist.
"What is it you're waiting for?" asks the housekeeper.
"The next contraction," says the doctor, "which is due any-"
Kawasemi's breathing starts to swell with fresh pain.
"One and two," counts Orito, "and-push, Kawasemi-san!"
"Push, Mistress!" exhort the maid and the housekeeper.
Dr. Maeno pulls at the forceps; with her right hand, Orito pushes the fetus's head toward the birth canal. She tells the maid to grasp the baby's arm and pull. Orito feels the resistance grow as the head reaches the aperture. "One and two . . . now!" Squeezing the glans of the clitoris ﬂat comes a tiny corpse's matted crown.
"Here he is!" gasps the maid, through Kawasemi's animal shrieks.
Here comes the baby's scalp; here his face, marbled with mucus . . .
. . . Here comes the rest of his slithery, clammy, lifeless body.
"Oh, but-oh," says the maid. "Oh. Oh. Oh . . ."
Kawasemi's high-pitched sobs subside to moans, and deaden.
She knows. Orito discards the forceps, lifts the lifeless baby by his ankles and slaps him. She has no hope of coaxing out a miracle: she acts from discipline and training. After ten hard slaps, she stops. He has no pulse. She feels no breath on her cheek from the lips and nostrils. There is no need to announce the obvious. Splicing the cord near the navel, she cuts the gristly string with her knife, bathes the lifeless boy in a copper of water, and places him in the crib. A crib for a coffin, she thinks, and a swaddling sheet for a shroud.
Chamberlain Tomine gives instructions to a servant outside. "Inform His Honor that a son was stillborn. Dr. Maeno and his midwife did their best but were powerless to alter what Fate had decreed."
Orito's concern is now puerperal fever. The placenta must be extracted, yakumosô applied to the perineum, and blood stanched from an anal ﬁssure.
Dr. Maeno withdraws from the curtained tent to make space.
A moth the size of a bird enters and blunders into Orito's face.
Batting it away, she knocks the forceps off one of the copper pans.
The forceps clatters onto a pan lid; the loud clang frightens a small creature that has somehow found its way into the room; it mewls and whimpers.
A puppy? wonders Orito, bafﬂed. Or a kitten?
The mysterious animal cries again, very near: under the futon?
"Shoo that thing away!" the housekeeper tells the maid. "Shoo it!"
The creature mewls again, and Orito realizes it is coming from the crib.
Surely not, thinks the midwife, refusing to hope. Surely not . . .
She snatches away the linen sheet just as the baby's mouth opens.
He inhales once, twice, three times; his crinkled face crumples . . .
. . . and the shuddering newborn boiled-pink despot howls at Life.
Captain Lacy's cabin on the Shenandoah, anchored in Nagasaki harbor
Evening of July 20, 1799
"How else," demands daniel snitker, "is a man to earn just reward for the daily humiliations we suffer from those slit-eyed leeches? 'The unpaid servant,' say the Spanish, 'has the right to pay himself,' and for once, damn me, the Spanish are right. Why so certain there'll still be a company to pay us in five years' time? Amsterdam is on its knees; our shipyards are idle; our manufactories silent; our granaries plundered; The Hague is a stage of prancing marionettes tweaked by Paris; Prussian jackals and Austrian wolves laugh at our borders: and Jesus in heaven, since the bird-shoot at Kamperduin we are left a maritime nation with no navy. The British seized the Cape, Coromandel, and Ceylon without so much as a kiss-my-arse, and that Java itself is their next fattened Christmas goose is plain as day! Without neutral bottoms like this"-he curls his lip at Captain Lacy-"Yankee, Batavia would starve. In such times, Vorstenbosch, a man's sole insurance is salable goods in the warehouse. Why else, for God's sake, are you here?"
The old whale-oil lantern sways and hisses.
"That," Vorstenbosch asks, "was your closing statement?"
Snitker folds his arms. "I spit on your drumhead trial."
Captain Lacy issues a gargantuan belch. "'Twas the garlic, gentlemen."
Vorstenbosch addresses his clerk: "We may record our verdict . . ."
Jacob de Zoet nods and dips his quill: ". . . drumhead trial."
"On this day, the twentieth of July, 1799, I, Unico Vorstenbosch, chief-elect of the trading factory of Dejima in Nagasaki, acting by the powers vested in me by His Excellency P. G. van Overstraten, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, witnessed by Captain Anselm Lacy of the Shenandoah, ﬁnd Daniel Snitker, acting-chief of the above- mentioned factory, guilty of the following: gross dereliction of duty-"
"I fulfilled," insists Snitker, "every duty of my post!"
" 'Duty' " Vorstenbosch signals to Jacob to pause. "Our warehouses were burning to cinders whilst you, sir, romped with strumpets in a brothel-a fact omitted from that farrago of lies you are pleased to call your day register. And had it not been for the chance remark of a Japanese interpreter-"
"Shit-house rats who blacken my name 'cause I'm wise to their tricks!"
"Is it a 'blackening of your name' that the ﬁre engine was missing from Dejima on the night of the ﬁre?"
"Perhaps the defendant took the engine to the House of Wistaria," remarks Captain Lacy, "to impress the ladies with the thickness of his hose."
"The engine," objects Snitker, "was Van Cleef's responsibility."
"I'll tell your deputy how faithfully you defended him. To the next item, Mr. de Zoet: 'Failure to have the factory's three senior ofﬁcers sign the Octavia's bills of lading.' "
"Oh, for God's sake. A mere administrative oversight!"
"An 'oversight' that permits crooked chiefs to cheat the company in a hundred ways, which is why Batavia insists on triple authorization. Next item: 'Theft of company funds to pay for private cargoes.' "
"Now that," Snitker spits with anger, "that is a ﬂat lie!"
From a carpetbag at his feet, Vorstenbosch produces two porcelain ﬁgurines in the Oriental mode. One is an executioner, ax poised to behead the second, a kneeling prisoner, hands bound and eyes on the next world.
"Why show me those"-Snitker is shameless-"gewgaws?"
"Two gross were found in your private cargo-'twenty-four dozen Arita ﬁgurines,' let the record state. My late wife nurtured a fondness for Japanese curiosities, so I have a little knowledge. Indulge me, Captain Lacy: estimate their value in, let us say, a Viennese auction house."
Captain Lacy considers. "Twenty guilders a head?"
"For these slighter ones alone, thirty-ﬁve guilders; for the gold- leafed courtesans, archers, and lords, ﬁfty. What price the two gross? Let us aim low-Europe is at war, and markets unsettled-and call it thirty-five per head . . . multiplied by two gross. De Zoet?"
Jacob's abacus is to hand. "Ten thousand and eighty guilders, sir."
Lacy issues an impressed "Hee-haw!"
"Tidy proﬁt," states Vorstenbosch, "for merchandise purchased at the company's expense yet recorded in the bills of lading-unwitnessed, of course-as 'Acting-Chief's Private Porcelain,' in your hand, Snitker."
"The former chief, God rest his soul"-Snitker changes his story-"willed them to me, before the court embassy."
"So Mr. Hemmij foresaw his demise on his way back from Edo?"