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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet [Paperback]

David Mitchell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 8 2011
The author of Cloud Atlas's most ambitious novel yet, for the readers of Ishiguro, Murakami, and, of course, David Mitchell.

The year is 1799, the place Dejima, the "high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island" that is the Japanese Empire's single port and sole window to the world. It is also the farthest-flung outpost of the powerful Dutch East Indies Company. To this place of superstition and swamp fever, crocodiles and courtesans, earthquakes and typhoons, comes Jacob de Zoet. The young, devout and ambitious clerk must spend five years in the East to earn enough money to deserve the hand of his wealthy fiancée. But Jacob's intentions are shifted, his character shaken and his soul stirred when he meets Orito Aibagawa, the beautiful and scarred daughter of a Samurai, midwife to the island's powerful magistrate. In this world where East and West are linked by one bridge, Jacob sees the gaps shrink between pleasure and piety, propriety and profit. Magnificently written, a superb mix of historical research and heedless imagination, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a big and unforgettable book that will be read for years to come.


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David Mitchell reinvents himself with each book, and it's thrilling to watch. His novels like Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas spill over with narrators and language, collecting storylines connected more in spirit than in fact. In The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, he harnesses that plenitude into a more traditional form, a historical novel set in Japan at the turn into the 19th century, when the island nation was almost entirely cut off from the West except for a tiny, quarantined Dutch outpost. Jacob is a pious but not unappealing prig from Zeeland, whose self-driven duty to blurt the truth in a corrupt and deceitful trading culture, along with his headlong love for a local midwife, provides the early engine for the story, which is confined at first to the Dutch enclave but crosses before long to the mainland. Every page is overfull with language, events, and characters, exuberantly saturated in the details of the time and the place but told from a knowing and undeniably modern perspective. It's a story that seems to contain a thousand worlds in one. --Tom Nissley --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER 

Shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards – Waterstone’s UK Author of the Year
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
 
A TIME Best Book
A Washington Post Best Book
A Financial Times Best Book
A New Yorker Best Book
A Globe and Mail Best Book
A New York Times Notable Book
 
“Not only a characteristically spectacular display of sheer talent, ambition, energy and vision, but [also] . . . a seismically moving and harrowingly human book that will enrich and enliven your existence.”
 — Jared Bland, The Walrus

“Let’s . . . call David Mitchell the David Bowie of contemporary fiction. . . . If Mitchell is Bowie, then, and if his novels are albums, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is his Station to Station — sprawling, epic, infused with an elusive otherness yet with all the crowd-pleasing trappings of a popular blockbuster.”
— The Gazette
 
“The amount of research that must have gone into this meticulous, wide-ranging work of historical fiction is staggering. . . . [Mitchell] uses it to immerse the reader fully in not one world, but several. . . . An exhilarating feeling to be the hands of such a virtuosic storyteller.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
 
“Guarantees fiction of exceptional intelligence, richness and vitality.”
The Globe and Mail
 
“[Mitchell has] created his most conventional but most emotionally engaging novel yet. . . . An affecting conclusion . . . underscores Mr. Mitchell’s mastery here not only of virtuosic literary fireworks, but also of the quieter arts of empathy and traditional storytelling.”
— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“Spectacularly accomplished and thrillingly suspenseful . . . a narrative of panoramic span. . . . Prodigiously researched, it resurrects place and period with riveting immediacy. Imagining, with corresponding fullness, not just its characters’ present predicaments but their pasts and futures, it brims with rich, involving and affecting humanity.”
— The Sunday Times


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This novel opens in 1799, on the island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay, where the Dutch East India Company was the sole trading point between Europe and the isolationist Japanese. Young Dutch clerk Jacob de Zoet has been tasked with stamping out corruption.

`The Company desires me, sir, to be thorough in all things.'

Dejima is a small island and is inhabited only by translators, prostitutes and traders. Access to mainland Japan is over a small fiercely guarded bridge. The Europeans resident on Dejima are isolated in every sense.

Jacob de Zoet is drawn to Orito, a midwife who has found favour with Hiroshima's governor and has been permitted greater contact with the Europeans as a consequence. Orito is working with Dr Marinus, the resident physician. Jacob and Orito fall in love, but culture and politics keep them separated. Jacob falls out of favour with his superior, and Orito is sold to a shrine after her father dies. These separate events, and what follows, serve to underline the difference between two very different worlds.

`Details beget facts, and facts, judiciously sent forth, become assassins.'

Meanwhile, world events are changing the balance of power between the Dutch and the British. This becomes clear when Captain John Penhaligon of the British Navy sails into Dejima with a view to dislodging the Dutch.

`Everything is happening too slow and too fast and all at once.'

This is a wonderful work of fiction. The main stories are those of Jacob de Zoet and Orito and to a lesser extent John Penhaligon. While the underlying historical basis is solid, not all facts and dates are accurate. But it doesn't matter, not for this story. This novel has its own rules, and is enhanced by the rich detail in the writing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Has everything... Sept. 30 2011
By Harrison Koehli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
From the first chapter, I was hooked. Mitchell has a way of making mood and sense of place tangible, and from those opening pages, I was transported. To the places, the time, and the characters' inner worlds. I didn't know what to expect when I started this book, not having read any of Mitchell's works before. But I don't have a single negative thing to say about this book. It moved me, gripped me with suspense, made me laugh, consult my dictionary, and really appreciate this man's way with words. I agree with other reviewers that, yes, it is an 'entertainment', not necessarily a masterpiece, but the characters are so well presented - their dialogue, uniqueness, flaws, and virtues - and the plot so well-executed that it doesn't really matter. And the final pages were perfect. It's just a great book, all around.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Mitchell Rules! Jan. 11 2011
Format:Hardcover
I have been a fan of David Mitchell since Ghostwritten came out more than a decade ago. I await every new novel with a total sense of wonder, curious to find out what new direction he will take, what stylistic challenge he'll attempt, and how he will astound me anew.

With "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," he has amazed me once again. In many ways, it reminds you of a classic 19th century novel, rich in description, characterization, language, and storytelling. However, not being a fan of historic novels myself, it really didn't matter, because, once I started the book, I was putty in Mitchell's hands.

This book is so rich and wonderful, it begs you to take your time and absorb each and every word, while driving you forward with spectacular storytelling. Pick up this book when you have time to spare, plan to take a week or two and rediscover what great writing is all about.

David Mitchell has been called a genius. I will go further and call him the best novelist writing today.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Visit Japan two hundred years ago... Jan. 2 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A wide-sweeping historical fiction which opens our eyes to the late 18th/early 19th centuries in a land which has changed so dramatically; as well as the fiction of benevolent colonialism.
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