The thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet

What a gorgeous cover this book has.  It just begs you to pick it up and get started on it.   I really liked the last book I read by David Mitchell, Black Swan Green but this book couldn’t be more different to that, which was set in Britain on a housing estate in the 1970s.

This one is set in Japan in the Edo era which was in the 1800s, all the way through you get the years in the Japanese system as well as the European.  Dutchman Jacob De Zoet is working as a clerk for The Dutch East India Trading Company with stations all through Asia.  The foreigners were not permitted onto the mainland of Japan, they live and work behind fortifications on an island just offshore called Dijima.  Jacob is betrothed and is earning money to prove himself a worthy husband and endeavoring to impress the father of his fiance.  His is not an easy lot, he is lost and lonely and bullied by the older rougher and dishonest hands on the job.  Jacob is not the world’s most go getting kind of guy, but he is earnest and honest, kind to his servants and translators.

This is really a love story.  The love of Jacob and Orito the badly scarred student of medicine, but the course of true love never runs smoothly and these two are tormented indeed, there is no way that Jacob can have a marriage with a Japanese girl, and neither of them are available anyway.

There are some truly wonderful scenes in this book and you can see them playing out in your mind as you read.  There are colourful and eccentric characters influencing the path of Jacob and an air of the sinister is all pervading at times.  This is not an easy read.  It is a huge book and you have to work hard at it, no quick read this one.  I loved the structure of the book, the chapter headings, the timelines and the drawings and maps.  I didn’t like being caught up for so long in Jacob’s head, I really plodded though some of the details in parts, getting a bit bogged down in parts and skipping ahead, and yet other parts, particularly Orito’s time in the nunnery in the mountains were gripping and exciting.

Anybody interested in Japanese history will enjoy the book, the historically accurate dates and details of the trading are interesting.  I’m really glad I made the effort.  David Mitchell is a stunning writer with lots of clever ways so be prepared to spend a good deal of time with the at times vastly irritating Jacob and the very cool and gutsy Aibagawa Orito.  You will be dazzled by the fabulous writing but maybe a little overwhelmed at times with the details.

Here is a question and answer with the author David Mitchell – he is cool.  And if you want one just about this book then you should go to here.


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