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 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).
Starred Review. It’s certainly no Cloud Atlas, but it is a dense and satisfying historical with literary brawn and stylistic panache.
Starred Review. This painstakingly researched and original novel is hard to pin to any one genre, for it is a historical novel and cultural study with plenty of intrigue and mystery mixed in. It is intelligent and utterly readable at the same time. Highly recommended.
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.
The Guardian (UK)
This may not, quite, be a masterpiece, but it is unquestionably a marvel – entirely original among contemporary British novels, revealing its author as, surely, the most impressive fictional mind of his generation.
The Telegraph (UK)
[This short review] can only hint at the complexity and eloquence of this novel. It will doubtless earn Mitchell his fourth Man Booker nomination and, if there’s any justice, his first win.
The Guardian (UK)
If The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet shows a strong family likeness to [his earlier books], his fifth novel also spins fresh creatures from a prodigious creative DNA. From some angles it looks a more conventional novel of historical events (and pseudo-events) than its forerunners. Yet it invites us to think and feel about a clash, or convergence, of civilisations in a fierce new light...
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Cloggie Downunder a brilliant read 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... Read More
Rated of 5
by chetyarbrough.com Historical Fiction This book misses the mark of great story telling because David Mitchell fails to develop characters or a theme that sparks enduring interest and memory. Mitchell breaks no new ground in this historical fiction. The story of Japan’s isolation and... Read More
Rated of 5
by Valerie A well-written, captivating work of historical fiction I had a hard time settling into this book, with some of the flowery language turning me off at first. ("...a cacophony of frogs detonates?" Really?) But I kept at it, and I ended up really enjoying the story, at least for the most... Read More
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 VOC, in other words, was the perfect embodiment of capitalism, fully formed and perfectly mobile. Its raison d'etre was exploration, the creation of new markets, and colonization.
On the other hand, Japan is symbolized by sakoku, literally "chained country," the Japanese foreign policy that made...
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