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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet Audiobook

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

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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

What the Critics Say

"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

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  •  
    Rachel Hillsborough, NC, United States 07-05-11
    Rachel Hillsborough, NC, United States 07-05-11
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    "Amazing narrator & book, a LITTLE tough to follow"

    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
    counter successfully...

    ...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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda G Napa Valley, CA 09-13-10
    Linda G Napa Valley, CA 09-13-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Lovely"

    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.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ellen birrell 07-29-10
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    "extraordinary"

    a totally satisfying historical fiction plot played out in prose that recalls Rabelais and DylanThomas. Terrific.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    New Orleans reader New Orleans LA 07-23-10
    New Orleans reader New Orleans LA 07-23-10 Member Since 2005
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    "Best listen this summer"

    Very compelling story and superb narration. Hated to finish. Highly recommended.

    13 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gail 08-01-10
    Gail 08-01-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "History, atmosphere and love"

    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.

    8 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert K. Morris 07-29-10
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    "a wonder, and wonderful, from beginning to end"

    if mitchell, in the sphere of fine writers, borders on genius, so the two narrators, in their own sphere, border on the same.

    8 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KP Oakland, CA 07-10-13
    KP Oakland, CA 07-10-13 Member Since 2016

    There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry – Emily Dickinson

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly"

    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was certainly well written, and, in general, the plot held my attention. I enjoyed the main story line. The problem is that the author goes off in so many directions with the plot. And there were so many characters! Also, I was not familiar with the names for many of the various geographical locations. For example, Batavia: I looked it up and am STILL not sure. I think it’s the old name for Jakarta. And there is Prince of Wales Island. I had to look that one up, too. The main location of the book is Dejima. Turns out it’s a man made island off the coast of Japan that was built as a base for foreign trade and to constrain that trade. All of this (plot, names, geography) was very distracting, hard to follow, and often boring. I don’t like having to stop reading to look things up. I’d prefer that the author give a few more obvious explanations! The reader had to infer much about the plot, as well, but this was more understandable and is an enjoyable part of reading that doesn’t stop the flow. So it was really an inconsistent read, I’d say.

    The first part has Jacob de Zoet as an honest clerk who, in the end, gets screwed over after all his honorable actions. Another plot line which gets introduced early on has to do with the young midwife with the burned face who is studying medicine, Orito Aibagawa. For the rest of the book Jacob is in love with her. I really didn’t see how or why this happens. It seems to come out of the blue, but I suppose that is sometimes how love happens. It just seemed that there should be a little more behind his infatuation.

    Then the next part has to do with Orito and how she is taken to the shrine of Mount Shiranui. This part, although it was interesting, was a tad over the top in its cheesiness. It was like a well-written Rosemary’s Baby or Exorcist. The plot in this section just didn’t seem to match up with the dignity or intellectualism of all the other parts. (Of course, the dignified, intellectual parts sometimes got damn boring, so this part was a welcome relief, in many ways. )

    Then the book takes off onto a completely different direction with an attack on Dejima by a British ship. That was the least interesting and most boring part of the book. And, in the end, it seems like the whole part could have been left out and the overall plot wouldn’t have been much different. The British ship ends up just sailing off anyway, and there is no explanation of WHY they gave up the fight. The book was SOOO LOOOONG; the author should have come up with SOME part to leave out, and this part is a candidate.

    The ending was ok – sad and dignified. In a way there were two endings. First the ending had to do with Abbot Enomoto and Magistrate Shiroyama. Then there is the ending to the tale of both Jacob de Zoet and Orito Aibigawa. After Jacob returns to the Netherlands and is on his deathbed, it seems that he sees the girl one more time in the shadows. I believe this is a dream or a sort of death vision, but I’d like to confirm this with another reader to make sure. I liked the way it was written ambiguously so the possibility of their final reunion is left in your mind, even if you pretty much know it can’t be real.

    The language of the book was lovely most of the time. The author wrote very poetically. There was one section at the end that evokes many scenes from Japan as Magistrate Shiroyama contemplates suicide, and it was in the form of a rhyming list that was beautiful, especially when listening to the book as I did. It is from the very beginning of Chapter 39. ( I won't include it here since it's so long, but I did use it in my Goodreads review. )


    Often the author juxtaposed an event that was taking place with a scene from nature or at least from the setting of the book at that moment. There are so many examples of this pattern. Here is one from page 499 where first Jacob speaks about his son, and then the author comments on a minute detail from the setting:


    “ ‘… Much as I long for a ship to arrive from Batavia for Dejima’s benefit, I dread the prospect of leaving him, also…’

    An invisible woodpecker works in short bursts on a nearby trunk.”




    Here is another example from the same page where Jacob is speaking and thinking:


    “ ….’Knowledge exists only when it is given’…Like love, Jacob would like to add. ‘Marinus was a cynical dreamer.’

    Halfway down, they hear and see the foaming coffee-brown river.”



    I wonder if each and every one of these examples has a specific significance or if the examples are meant to somehow keep the readers attention on some other plane or in the ambience of the moment that is taking place?


    This example is particularly confusing since it juxtaposes beauty with extreme crassness or ugliness:


    “ A man in the heads, a few feet down and a few feet forward, groans.
    ’The Japanese, I read,’ says Talbot, ‘give florid names to their kingdom …’

    The unseen sailor issues an almighty orgasmic bellow of relief …

    ‘ “The Land of a Thousand Autumns” or “The Root of the Sun.” ‘

    … and a turd hits the water like a cannonball. Wetz rings three bells.

    ‘Seeing Japan,’ says Talbot, ‘such poetic names seem precise.’ “

    (Kindle Locations 6892-6894)


    I would really like to know why the author wrote this passage this way. It is interesting, but I don’t understand it. In a way it seems to denigrate the beauty of the names for Japan, and the name of the book, to put them in such close proximity with a turd! Oh well.


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darrell OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, United States 09-28-12
    Darrell OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, United States 09-28-12 Member Since 2013

    Tell us about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Trade and Treachery in 19th Century Japan"
    What did you love best about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet?

    This book gives the reader a wonderful window into insular Japan and their relationship with foreigners inhabiting the Dutch Trade mission at Nagasaki. It is a story of love, hesitation, loss, and courage seen through the eyes of a young Dutch clerk and a Japanese midwife as their lives intermingle.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Jakob De Zoet was my favorite character as I share both his Dutch ancestry and red hair. Jakob was a man of great principle and integrity who exhibited unexpected courage when most men would have fled. His thirst for knowledge and understanding of the Japanese Culture, and his abiding love for the Mysterious Miss Origato, made him a character with whom I could identify.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The death scene in the Magistrates rooms.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It was perhaps a little long for a single sitting.


    Any additional comments?

    A wonderful and informative historical novel.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David 09-06-12
    David 09-06-12 Listener Since 2009
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    "Unrequited Love Caught In Two Very Flawed Cultures"

    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.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 09-11-10
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 09-11-10 Member Since 2006

    malfi

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1134
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    "Amazing (but complex)"

    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.

    5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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