‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet’ by David Mitchell

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!

2 responses to “‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet’ by David Mitchell

  1. I love Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green (Cloud Atlas is especially amazing), but from the reviews this one looked longer, heavier, harder so I didn’t seek it out.

  2. You were right, it was a slog, but I do think Mitchell is an excellent writer. Cloud Atlas is on our book club list for later this year, so I’m glad to hear you liked it!

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