Saturday 16 July 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet - David Mitchell

It's 1799 and Jacob De Zoet is a Clerk for the Dutch East India Company. Japan has opened is allowing the Dutch to trade with them and they even have their own settlement near Nagasaki. After centuries of a non outsider policy the Dutch are determined to take advantage of this. Jacob is sent there to help clean up the Dutch side of the trade and rid it of corruption. This proves to be a challenge to Jacob who wants to do the best job he can so he can go home and marry his love. Very quickly though, the mysterious Aibabagawa catches his eye and he becomes infatuated. Unlike the other women who have free entry into the Dutch area she is not to be touched. She is a midwife and is there to learn under the Dutch doctor. That doesn't stop Jacob from falling for her although he is little prepared for the results.

I have read two other books by David Mitchell and loved them both. Both books were extremely different in style and this one proved to be no different. An historical fiction novel set during a period when Japan was reluctant to allow outsiders to step foot on her land or influence her people. It's an area of history that I know very little about and it proved to be interesting. Having read a little behind the book I know that the author spent four years researching it. In fact he got the initial idea from his visit to the Dejima museum (Dejima was the name of the island that the Dutch had to keep to).

I have to be honest though. My initial reaction to the book wasn't a good one. I was excited about it originally for two reasons. It was written by an author that I was growing to like and it was set in Japan, a country I am fascinated with. As it seemed to be mainly from the point of view of the Dutch and their concerns with trade I thought it was going to turn out to be extremely boring. I had no interest in reading a book about that and was considering giving up on it not far in (which isn't like me). It quickly picked up though and I realised a lot of the start was necessary to get an idea of the characters who would have an important part to play later in the book.

The characters were fantastic. Every single one of them had their own story to tell. Including the few important Japanese characters. At some point in the book they were all able to tell their own story and I loved that fact. It made them more real and even gave me the chance to sympathise with characters I probably wouldn't have liked. Such as the British Captain in the third section of the book. It was a little difficult to want him to be defeated since he was a character I knew I would grow to like.

Even the women in the shrine that Aibagawa was sent to. It was a cult and they welcomed it. I wanted to dislike some of them for their cruelty and their naivety but I couldn't. I wanted Aibagawa to get away but not if it cost these women their lives. Basically I was made to go through the dilemmas the characters themselves faced. It made for an interesting read.

The one similarity this book has with his others is that it is separated into sections. He seems to like that writing style and has used it in different ways. For each book it has worked and this one proves no different. I particularly enjoyed the second section. Whilst more disturbing at times due to the descriptions of the shrine it was certainly the most interesting. Mainly because it was from the point of view of the Japanese.

Whilst I didn't like this book at the start by the end it has become my favourite by David Mitchell.


  1. I have this book in my TBR pile and cannot wait until i finish the read-a-long i joined so i can get to this! Great review!

  2. Thanks Young1. I hope you enjoy it. If you don't like it at the start like me keep at it. It is worth it.