A Booker finalist and Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize winner, David Mitchell was called “prodigiously daring and imaginative” by Time and “a genius” by the New York Times Book Review.
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?”
©2010 David Mitchell (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
"It’s as difficult to put this novel down as it is to overestimate Mitchell’s virtually unparalleled mastery of dramatic construction, illuminating characterizations and insight into historical conflict and change. Comparisons to Tolstoy are inevitable, and right on the money." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Despite the audacious scope, the focus remains intimate; each fascinating character has the opportunity to share his or her story. Everything is patched together seamlessly and interwoven with clever wordplay and enlightening historical details on feudal Japan. First-rate literary fiction and a rousing good yarn, too." (Booklist)
“An achingly romantic story of forbidden love . . . [David] 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)
What a scrumptious novel! The reader becomes totally immersed in the sights, smells, and sounds of eighteenth century Japan. Nothing in this author's style is mundane and the web of stories within stories creates the sensation of becoming a fly on the wall in every scene. Full of adventure, suspense, heroism, and of course, love, this book is the best read of the summer by far.
This was a great historical novel focusing on just a few characters and a short span of years. It tells the tale of Dutch clerk Jacob de Zoet, the pious son of a deacon, and his unexpectedly long stay at the Dutch trading post of Dejima, at the time (late 18th/early 19th century) the West's only contact with Japan. De Zoet is the main character, but the novel switches POVs throughout, with the middle third focusing mostly on Japanese characters. It's a long, complex story full of love, betrayal, and cultural misunderstandings, ending with a naval attack based on an actual historical incident. There are vivid, sometimes literally poetic descriptions of everything from trees and Nagasaki Harbor to the fellows hauling chamber pots, and some quite brilliant internal monologues, which earned this book its Booker Award nomination. If you like historical fiction and character dramas, I highly recommend this one.
Some reviewers complained of long gaps in the recording or missing sections. I don't know what they're talking about; I didn't find any such problems. The narration by Jonathan Aris is very good, as he does various types of accents quite well. (The exception is his American accent, which is horrible, but fortunately there's only one American character who only has a few lines.) Paula Wilcox did an adequate job for Orito, but not so great with male voices. Overall, though, I enjoyed the narration.
I tried. Really I did. But I couldn't finish it. There are innumerable characters, each with unmemorable names, having tedious conversations with seemingly no relevance to the story or the plot. I think the narrator did an amazing job with a multitude of accents, but for me it was virtually impossible to keep track of all the characters, despite his vocal characterizations. If you enjoy hours of inane conversation, punctuated only occasionally by interesting plot elements, take a shot. But I did not enjoy this book, despite my general like of long detailed audiobooks.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
This book was recommended by one of the people I follow. I had never read a David Mitchell book before but I do try to read winners of the Booker Prize, which this book won. The story takes place in the 1790s Nagasaki Japan. Jacob De Zoet was a clerk at the Dutch East Indies Company. Japan allowed only the DEI company trading access to Japan. There was a variety of characters from Dutch, Malay, to Japanese. Mitchell painted a picture rich with detail, intriguing characters and oriental mystery, there was depth, humor and subtlety. I felt the middle of the book slowed down and the ending was rushed other wise it was it was paced fairly well. The narrators Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox did a good job. This is a historical novel and the research of the time and place was well done and expertly wove into an interesting story.
This book was just plain fun. I love history and got lots of it here, some for real and some invented, but all fascinating. The characters and situations were so original and new to me. A real saga, and very well read by the narrators.
I'd probably read it. The author is a master, and I'd like to savor his writing. That said, I really enjoyed the audiobook, too.
The escape of Jacob's love, as well as the botched rescue of her.
They were all wonderful.
Jacob de Zoet, of course. He's the one we got to know and follow.
This profile is under my husband's name since Audible merged with Amazon. So just call me Bob. Or wife of Bob. Or the reader in the family. Whatever.
I loved this book. It's beautifully written and completely immerses the reader into its world. I didn't want it to end. Highly recommend!
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
The story begins in 1799 at the Dutch East Indies Company trading post Dejima, in the harbor of Nagasaki, Japan. The Japanese are't allowed to travel outside of Japan, and very few Europeans are tolerated on Japanese soil for fear the Europeans might 'contaminate' Japan with their culture and beliefs. The book is divided in three parts, in the first, we are introduced to a huge cast of characters, too many to remember in fact, who inhabit Dejima, from the sailors and officers to the surgeon Dr Mariner, and the ubiquitous Japanese interpreters (who sometimes double as spies) and of course, our hero, Jacob de Zoet. Although Jacob has promised a young woman back home in Holland that he will return as a rich man and marry her, our young man falls hopelessly in love with a young female student of doctor Mariner's, Orito, a midwife who's appearance is marred by a burn scar which covers one half of her face. Suddenly, shortly after her father dies, Orito is taken away to a mysterious abbey far away in the mountains, and things take a fascinating turn.
Parts of this book were tremendously enjoyable, with bits of prose which shone like little jewels. The second part of the story held me captive throughout. Indeed, taken in separate parts, one could say that Mitchell created a most convincing picture, rich with detail, intriguing characters and mysterious motivations. But taken as a whole, the novel didn't quite hang together properly. More editing would probably have been a good idea for starters, but the third part of the novel told me that the author never quite found his focal point, other than Jacob de Zoet who in the end failed to hold one's interest for long. All the same, this is a very well written historical novel which is well worth discovering. I would say that the audio version is definitely the way to go with this novel, since there are characters with many different accents which the narrator interprets very well, and which helps to understand what could otherwise be a confusing narrative.
Disclaimer: as I write this, I'm between 2/3 and 5/6 of the way through the book, so I can't speak to the way it's influenced by the ending, as novels inevitably are. So far, though...
...This is truly an amazing novel. When I read that David Mitchell put such research into making sure that everything little bit was historically accurate, so that a single sentence sometimes took him hours to write, it let me listen to this not just as an engaging storyline with romance and corruption and international relations and all the other good things but also as a window into Japan of yore. Jonathan Aris is truly extraordinary in his portrayal of a multinational cast of characters -- even when I had a little trouble understanding which of the names was linked to which country and attendant role in the unfolding political/economic drama, Aris' rotating accents to represent the Irishman, the American, the Prussian, the Japanese, and so on, were both consistent and authentic enough to clear things up considerably.
On a related note, my only criticism of this book is about its viability as an audio-book at all -- specifically, there are a LOT of characters whose different roles are important but whose names are all foreign enough (to me, in this day and age) that it took me several chapters to really understand what it meant when any given person said something. I think part of the problem is that many of them are presented all together, at the beginning, which I think the active and enterprising listener could probably
...So my bottom line is that this is a great, GREAT audio-book for someone who likes high-level historical fiction, and that it might make for a better listening/understanding experience if one could start out with a printed list of character names or perhaps a hardcopy of the first couple of chapters, just for a visual reference.
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