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)
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.
Honestly, I almost gave up on this book because, in my opinion, the first half was just not all that interesting. That said, I am happy that I stuck with it because the book grows exponentially in complexity. The ending of this book was not predictable, not sappy ... don't really know how to explain it except: perfect.
This is a great novel that delves into the Japan of 1799. If you love a story with history and a peek into the Japanese and Dutch culture of that time period, you will enjoy this novel. The only thing that was a little odd was that the narrator would portray a Japanese character with English Cockney accents.
if mitchell, in the sphere of fine writers, borders on genius, so the two narrators, in their own sphere, border on the same.
A lovely escape into the grime and gristle of European and Japanese cultures mixing and manipulating over the politics of commerce.
Glimmers of individual virtue are pitted against cultural chauvinism, with graphic descriptions of the foibles, constraints and violences of both.
A thoroughly enjoyable escape -- like a vacation for the imagination.
David Mitchell gives readers who enjoy sweeping historical novels everything for which they could hope: an exotic setting, unique characters, adventure, betrayal, intrigue, sacrifice, romance, maritime conflict, and even a monkey named William Pitt. I loved his characters, who were all individualized and fascinating, yet quite believable.
My only criticism is that I might rather have read this book in print. With lots of characters with unfamiliar names and passing through about 50 years, it is rather complex to keep it all sorted out while listening. But the readers are quite fine.
Once again, a cast-of-thousands narration has irreparably damaged a major writing effort. As happens in Roxana Ortega's trivializing narration of Jennifer Egan's A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, the narration here of David Mitchell's THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET turns a 19-hour audiobook into an exhausting Babel. Unlike the Egan book, this novel, itself, is a disappointment. C.S. Godshalk's remarkable 1998 KALIMANTAAN (woefully not represented in the Audible library) is a far more compelling tale of Old World travel in the East and devastating cultural clashes in an exotic past. Mitchell's new effort is no CLOUD ATLAS, and nowhere near as good as the superb Dave Eggers' review in the Times might lead you to think. Publisher's Weekly called this Mitchell's "busman's holiday." Exactly. Traditionalism on wheels. Dutch traders in the far-offs. And like Clancy, Mitchell may have sailed into the realms of the monster-maestro whom no one dares approach with a red pencil. Excruciatingly long birth scenes, beheading scenes, other bodily-fluids scenes are flanked by deep descriptions of squalor in early 19th-century Japan. Vivid, sure. So is a stunning sunset. Imagine hearing readers deploy accents and funny voices describing every nook, cranny and hue in the clouds of that sunset. What's the alternative? Check Campbell Scott's reading of Henry Miller's TROPIC OF CANCER. No circus of French accents in Paris, it's a riveting, meditative reading of the book in one voice. Scott serves Miller's art as Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox do not serve Mitchell's. We need them to read the book, not perform it. And this trend to cast-of-thousands narrations is a mistake, as when Disney turned Broadway into a show on ice. It's a small, small world between your ears, with room for two minds – yours and your author's. As a reader co-creates a book, so should a listener co-create that literature on headphones. Even if it does take a THOUSAND AUTUMNS to get to the end.
but wait it out. A good book about an interesting time. It does scream for a good editor in the early part, and but the book does eventually move and the story is very interesting.
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