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)
Exquisitely crafted and beautifully performed!
I confess to getting lost among the plethora of characters and situations; often struggling to remember who was who and what they were up to. I sometimes felt as though I were sitting too close to a large painting, only able to see details but unable to see the big picture.
In the beginning I occasionally felt like giving up, but decided to simply step back and enjoy the ride; hoping that, eventually, things would come together and the fog would clear.
The ride was fascinating; even when I wasn't always following the intrigues. Just being in this place; witnessing this culture, and its characters, was enough to keep me listening. I left like an observer who, while I didn't always know what it was all about, was fascinated by the personalities, the voices, the conditions and the strangeness of the Japanese culture of the period.
As it turned out I found myself enjoying many Aha moments, as pieces suddenly fell into place and situations became clear.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
Mitchell's got the precision of Roth, the bigness of Tolstoy, the ventriloquism of Pynchon and the heart of ... Hugo perhaps. IT is rare for me to find a book that hits me as hard as this one did. A near perfect novel.
It is a story that immediately demand your attention. Its setting is very well described and the characters develop nice and evenly and give more depth to the environment the book is placed in. At times it can be hard to keep some of the characters apart, but that doesn't seem to harm the flow of it. Even though the story mainly takes place on a tiny island, it opens up a whole world of intrigues. This book has it all, romance, adventure, science, murder etc etc. Its a shame that the narrators are unable to pronounce the Dutch names better.
Booker Prize nominees rarely disappoint and this is no exception ... deeply engaging characters and plot immersed in a fascinating historical setting -- very reminiscent of the Aubrey-Maturin novels. Excellent narration.
I enjoyed this book, but I found it to be uneven. The author tells the story episodically, focusing in turn on several characters. The first part off the book focuses on the Dutchmen Jacob and the trading factory at Nagasaki. I found the characters and plot very engaging. Then he shifts gears to focus for the most part on the Japanese characters in another subplot. There is a necessary change of pace when going from a bustling seaport to a monastery, but I found that the book became significantly less engaging through about the middle third of the recording. Like everything was at one remove. The artistic intent was there, but at times it felt contrived & too slow. The plot elements and characters are in place, but the author didn't draw me in the way he had earlier in the novel. Then in the last third of the novel, the vigor came back.
There were a couple of places in the recording where there were silent gaps of up to a minute that made me wonder if parts of the book were unintentionally omitted in the recording and editing process. There is a much anticipated taiphoon that is not described. Audible should review these recordings from start to finish before they are posted for download.
Wonderful story and beautifully narrated. I was transported into a different land - and resented having to lever myself back into the "real" world when I had to turn it off. The character's different voices, accents, and names were quite clear. Not sure how they did that!
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I loved Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, for its invention, its haunting imagery, and its wonderfully varied collection of characters and voices. However, it was more a series of thematically-linked vignettes than a true novel. In The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeSoet, Mitchell puts his undeniable imagination and talent to work in a more traditional work of long fiction. All in all, much of what I enjoyed most about Cloud Atlas -- the colorful characters and their unique vocabularies and mannerisms, the historically-based but somewhat fanciful quality of the writing, the posing of deeper questions about human morality and relationships -- is here in this book. Anyone who's a fan of David Mitchell won't be disappointed.
That said, I think what worked well so well in Cloud Atlas's loose pastiche doesn't expand perfectly into a longer story. For all Mitchell's skill as a writer, the larger plot arc is somewhat pedestrian, and the three parts of the tale join a bit awkwardly. Interesting characters and examinations of issues fill the reader's attention for a while, then disappear for whole chapters, if not the rest of the book. I wondered if the work had started out as a collection of short vignettes and episodes, a la Cloud Atlas, but had been turned into a novel. Also, Mitchell wears his political leanings a bit on his sleeve at times -- there's a strong cynicism to his portrayal of capitalism and its authority figures.
But, these issues are minor next to the sheer mastery of the writing. There are brilliant, beautiful passages and scenes. The dialogues and interactions between characters are filled with depth, humor, and subtlety. Even if Mitchell uses some obvious 21st century artistic license, his turn-of-the-19th-century sea captains, petty officers, salt-of-the-earth sailors, samurai, doctors, magistrates, and translators are wonderfully rendered. Obviously, much research went into the novel. If the whole felt segmented to me, each segment is engrossing. One is never sure what will happen next, or to whom, and by the time the story nears its climax, only the most jaded reader, I think, will be able to put the book down. The melancholic ending almost had me tearing up.
Is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeSoet as imaginative and daring a work as Cloud Atlas? No. Is it as exquisitely written? Yes.
Audio note: the reader does a generally fine job with the personalities and accents of the various European characters. However, I found his choice to give British accents to different Japanese characters (whenever the narrative is from a Japanese viewpoint) a little disconcerting.
This book is set in old Japan when the Dutch were trading. I enjoyed it and will warn the reader that it moves a bit slower than some audiobooks that I have read.
I would probably have given it 5 stars but something is wrong in the third part and it repeats.
I also don't know if it is the fault of the author or if the audio book has skipped some chapters because it seems to have all the loose ends pull together in one chapter which I found to be quite sudden. Otherwise, I did enjoy the book, except for these problems.
This is not a "page-turner" but is a well paced, well written novel. The narration is somewhat confusing at times with miss-placed accents but one gets used to it.
A book that has been around for a while and extensively reviewed - what can I add that has not already been conveyed? Mitchell is nothing less than brilliant; considered one of the best writers of our time, and hailed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. From experience, I know that reading Mitchell is always rewarding, but I am no intellect, and that reward (for me) comes from straining my average brain. Though I've been wanting to read this book, it has sat in my library with other formidable reads, until I felt ready for some keen commitment.
Fantastic historical fiction that saturates the senses in the time and culture. The themes of honor and treachery, clash of cultures, and mutual ignorance, during a time of enlightenment and expanding global interests were clearly related through the multitude of events. As I listened, the book played out before me like a grand epic tale on a panoramic scope. The linear structure was easier to follow than Cloud Atlas; the links to his other novels were cleverly woven in, as were recurring themes of continuation. The dialogues were amazing, keeping continuity and clarity of character so realistically, you feel sometimes like an eavesdropper. Mitchell says he worked four years on this book, which was obvious in the details that added dimension and authenticity.
The demands of this book are dealing with the throngs of characters, and long periods of time with the arcing stories. The crowds of people are thrown at you like opening the doors to an audience, and the stories cover not only the trajectory of their plots, but also numerous insertions of observations--that at times present themselves like potholes on the path of the story flow. I found these issues compounded by the narration--not by the narrator, but by experiencing this book audibly. This is one case where I would have preferred reading the text. Mitchell's style of writing, his poetic prose and artistic use of language, make each sentence worth examination; he says so much with every single word.
The narrative shifts from Jacob, to Orito, then back to Jacob; some reviewers mentioned they felt Orito's narrative dragged and wasn't as engaging--I felt the opposite. The monastery seemed foreboding, foreign, and mysterious. Her mad-like musings to the mouse, the pot, the broom, added a mythical and exotic element. Finally, I admit that my average brain sometimes drifted off during parts of this very long book, and I felt the details were arduous. But, that may not be the fault of the author, but rather the result of a mediocre reader tackling superior writing. Highly recommend to those that want to spend some time listening to a beautifully written, unforgettable story, that educates and entertains.
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