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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
By the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas | Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

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 Guardian’s 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 Empire’s 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 Jacob’s original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city’s 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 Jacob’s worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, “Who ain’t 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.

Praise for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
 
“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


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

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

“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


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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