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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"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 members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Linda
  • Petaluma, California
  • 09-20-10

Starts slowly doesn't even begin to cover it...

Truly...I love good historical fiction, and I will rarely quit reading once I have started. I managed to make it to the end of "The Pillars of the Earth", which I never thought was that great of a novel...but I slogged on through to the end. Where do I begin to describe why I gave up on this book? For starters, I had trouble keeping track of the characters and trying to stay focused on the story. My mind kept wandering during the narration. The description of translation of Dutch to Japanese (and visa versa) didn't make any sense (Japanese asking about English idioms that are supposed to be Dutch), and so forth. I soldiered on to part 2, but finally gave up. In the end (I mean the middle), I still didn't care about Jacob, or the midwife, or the slimy cast of characters that populate this novel enough to keep going.

  • Overall

Extremely boring.

The narration for this book is great, especially considering the range of languages and accents included, however the story itself is extremely boring. There is very little character development except for long sections of characters telling their stories to other characters, but very little action to give you a sense of who they are. I tried very hard to finish it but just can't get through the final two hours because I just don't care what happens to any of the characters - they barely exist in my mind. The author includes plenty of historical detail, but it's not presented in a particularly interesting or subtle way. I couldn't tell you what the point or plot of this book is and I'm sorry I've wasted as much time as I did listening to it. It's a great example of a writer who can create a poetic turn of phrase but isn't able to create any sub plots or interesting characters. He also has an irritating habit of trying to break up boring dialogue with irrelevant goings-on "A leaf fell from the maple tree," etc. I don't usually review books but I felt so strongly about the blandness of this one that I had to comment. Spend your money elsewhere.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dennis
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 09-08-10

No, No, A Thousand Times, No

It would take me a thousand years to finish this dreadful book. I tried to listen to the more than three hours it took me to rip off my head phones and admit that I had made a mistake buying this book. Neither the reader nor the story held my attention.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


What could have been a wonderful story was ruined by the almost obsessive concern with bodily functions. On a positive note, the writer has a wonderful ability for descriptive prose.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Spend some money

The book overall was excellent, the problem was they were too cheap to hire narrators to read the Japanese parts, sounded terrible especially the womens roles, thick English accent for a young Japanese girl.... crazy.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Difficult to follow plot

I want to like this book, but the narration is proving very difficult to follow. The way the character names are pronounced makes it hard for me to visualize them, and thus, to keep them straight. When does the real story begin?

  • Overall

Long, boring and never went anywhere

I struggled to finish this one. First all the characters sounded English. The Dutch, the Japanese (sometimes they had a little accent). Oh, the Prusian did sound Prusian but that was it. Part 1 I couldn't even see a story. Part 2 I started to follow it. I thought, ok, a nice little love story, but that ended and Part 2 embarked on a different stoy that also went nowhere. Then it wraps up in the last 2-5 minutes and not very satifactory.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • upper darby, PA, United States
  • 08-23-10

I melted into it...

This book was not at all what I thought it was going to be. I started listening to it on the ride home from dropping my son at college, and just couldn't get into it. I loved The Tales of the Otari, and thought it was going to be like that. I was very wrong. I did decide to give it a second try and was I glad I did. I became mesmerized by the story and really started to care about the characters.
I thought the narration was great.
It is one of those stories though, where a minor character occasionally tells or shares his or her own story which does nothing to really further the plot. In the end, it is a simple story of a truly honorable man, and scattered throughout are acts of faith, courage, and love.

  • Overall
  • Blythe
  • Longmont, CO, United States
  • 08-22-10

Worth it, overall . . .

A good narrative with many fascinating moments--and very well read! But, as often seems to happen with authors who have acquired sufficient reputation and recognition, the novel needed some serious editing. There are many long, long passages that add little to the narrative and seem to speak only to Mitchell's fascination with various topics. While I appreciate his erudition and research, it often became a struggle to keep going through some of the more turgid digressions. . . Do try to hang in there, though, it is a worthwhile story overall.

  • Overall
  • Jenny
  • PHILADELPHIA, PA, United States
  • 08-14-10

missing jacob...

I found myself utterly absorbed in this book. i felt it moved slowly for the first 1/3, but it was still absorbing--like lying by a stream. Then all of a sudden it sped up, then slowed down again, which was unexpected but by this point I loved the characters and was glad to hear more action from them. I love Orito and wish I could be friends with her.
There are definitely parts that are...for lack of a better word...gross (explicit medical descriptions) but I didn't find them so frequent as to distract from the story. I thought the narrators did a great job, and the voices they used really helped me keep characters straight.
And now it's been a few days since I finished the story...and I miss Jacob!