In 2007, Time magazine named him one of the most influential novelists in the world. He has twice been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The New York Times Book Review called him simply a genius. Now David Mitchell lends fresh credence to The Guardians claim that each of his books seems entirely different from that which preceded it. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a stunning departure for this brilliant, restless, and wildly ambitious author, a giant leap forward by even his own high standards. A bold and epic novel of a rarely visited point in history, it is a work as exquisitely rendered as it is irresistibly readable.
The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island that is the Japanese Empires 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 Jacobs original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the citys 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 Jacobs worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, Who aint 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.
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 ...
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is so unbelievably good that as soon as I started reading it, I grew anxious about how to convey its brilliance without resorting to overused words like, well, "brilliance." I'll do my best to produce a discerning review, but all I really want to say is: for the love of story, read this book!
(Reviewed by Amy Reading).
Full Review (1113 words).
There are two nations with two utterly incommensurate notions of power at loggerheads with each other in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. On the one hand, the Netherlands is represented by the Dutch East Indies Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch), a government-chartered company founded in 1602 to monopolize the Netherlands' trading in Asia. A chartered company allowed its shareholders to pool capital and dilute risk in order to embark on farflung missions. The VOC was the world's first multinational corporation and the first company to issue stock. Its rights far exceeded those of today's multinationals, because it was allowed to wage war, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies. The ...
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