I found the story very interesting, beautifully written, which is why I stayed with it through the maddening narration. While the narrators' voices are both pleasant and are well-suited to the English/Dutch characters, they chose to portray the Japanese characters with cockney voices. Not only did it make it very difficult to keep the characters straight, it completely destroyed the sense of place. The beauty of a good audio book is that it transports you to another time and place. The silly working-class English accents of the Japanese characters made a mockery of half the book. I'm sure the author is suitably mortified.
This is a book made for Audible.
Each of the voices--high-born Dutch, stiff-necked Prussian, and Japanese translators--first, second, third class, samurai and lords are carefully calibrated and delivered with respect. The performances are vibrant and compassionate, and avoid the caricature of Yellow-Face.
It is the story of the Dutch trading enclave of Dejima in the port of Nagasaki in the late 1790s. The Dutch have exclusive rights to Japanese trade, and both sides thrive in a swamp of corruption and suspicion, and Jacob de Zoet, an accountant brought to dredge the corruption, is one of the few honest men.
Mitchell applies thin coats of lacquer to the Dutch and Japanese relationship, strengthening it through language, friendship, love and tragedy until it is unbreakable. The story is told in a triptych. (I borrow this insight from Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, June 28, 2010.)
The second panel is gothic, set in an impregnable mountain convent surrounded by lusty vicious monks. The conclusion is foreshadowed with a sable brush. I would like to say more, but I do not want to rob you of the experience.
The third panel is maritime brinksmanship, where the British Empire comes to Dejima, is the most conventional, propelled by a British Captain obsessed with legacy as redemption, to erase personal losses as is his opposite, Jacob de Zoet.
The end closes the way it began, an accounting of credits and losses by Jacob de Zoet, an honest man.
This was a book chosen by my book club and I don't think I would have finished it had it not been for Audible books. I did not like many parts of this novel but listening to it helped get me through these spots. Furthermore, having the book read aloud was extremely helpful since there were many foreign names.Finally, it was wonderful since I could listen to it and do my knitting.
They did a good job of creating recognizably different voices, which fit the text well.
I enjoyed learning about Japan's early contacts with the west (Holland), in the context of a novel about adventure, some mystic elements, and a love story.
Exotic, complex, colorful
River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
I appreciated having a female narrator for the parts of the book focused on the one female character. While Jonathan Aris did a good job with all the voices, making it easy to tell them apart, it wouldn't have been the same if he had told Orito's story.
After putting this one down months ago to start the next book club selection even though I was only halfway through, I finally finished it on audio. With all the character names, the lapse I'm sure took away from the story, but I'm excited to have finished it. I really enjoyed some parts of this book, while I thought others dragged, but overall Mitchell is a great writer of historical fiction who takes you to another place and time with a colorful array of characters. I'm not usually fond of books where babies are killed, but somehow in this strange but interesting book it works!
If you plan on listening this book as background noise while you drive or work, don't do it!! This book demands your full attention!! It gives a lot of details and a great understanding of the environment. As soon as you get closer to the end, you don't want it to end!! The narration was good, but there was a little difficulty with the pronunciation of some words; but still, it is a great story!!
This was one of the best books I listened to or read in 2011. It was unique, pretty fast moving, had unusual and interesting characters, and did an excellent job of drawing the reader into it's world. It is a long book, but I didn't want it to end. I look forward to listening to more David Mitchell books.
Say something about yourself!
The best thing about this book is probably it's title. A nice story, interesting characters and landscape do make for a pleasant read but there is little soul here. I won't remember much of this novel, except it's promising title.
I wanted to "read" more by the author of "Cloud Atlas" so I picked this at random. It's a splendid display of craftsmanship. David Mitchell's grasp of japanese culture is on display as is his artistic touch with words on paper.
Here he stirs beautiful words into complex sentences into well wrought phrases into beautifully descriptive paragraphs, into this wonderful book.
I just discovered a new favorite writer.