In the late 1700’s Japan’s only connection with Europe was around trade that took place on Dejima, an artificial island on Japan’s doorstep which was essentially a collection of warehouses built by the Dutch mercantile empire in Nagasaki Bay.
No matter how intriguing this historical time period was, despite an adventure in the middle and a few other interesting twists and turns, I found parts of this book a real slog. It was necessary for me to do some research on Dejima (Wikipedia) to even make a start and be able to understand what was going on.
Jacob De Zoet is a Dutchman who finds himself far from his Dutch fiance on the island of Dejima and falls in love with a Japanese woman. The naive accountant is surprisingly clever at dealing with tricky cultural issues and crooked sailors. His honest approach somehow results in career achievements which are brilliant in a place where survival was not easy. Some of the descriptions of early surgical practices are visceral and the ‘nunnery’ where Orito ends up is horrific. Jacob De Zoet is not a character you will soon forget even though his Dutch cronies and Japanese translators were actually so non-descript after awhile, that I lost track of who was who (but it didn’t really matter).
If you are a great lover of historical fiction, this would be an excellent book for you. If you want an engaging captivating read, you might want to take a pass. I would put this book in the “lost opportunity” category. He had a great thing going with the story, the characters, the setting, and the adventure, but it’s too bad it got so boggy because it could have been a blockbuster. If you are good at skimming over bogs and finding the solid nuggets, by all means give it a go. There are plenty of really great parts too. Mitchell is a famous author and there is genius in the writing. I am actually glad I read it for when the movie comes out – it would make a great Pirates of the Caribbean type film!