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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  27,917 ratings  ·  4,053 reviews
In 1799, Jacob de Zoet disembarks on the tiny island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s remotest trading post in a Japan otherwise closed to the outside world. A junior clerk, his task is to uncover evidence of the previous Chief Resident’s corruption.

Cold-shouldered by his compatriots, Jacob earns the trust of a local interpreter and, more dangerously, becomes intr...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published June 29th 2010 by Random House (first published January 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Remember Dr. Seuss's words, children: "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" In the case of wunderkind writer David Mitchell's THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET, you'll set your time machine dial for 1799 and a makeshift Dutch port called Dejima on the shores of Nagasaki, Japan.

But let's take it down another level. You'll start at the port and live with old salts that'll make the Pirates of the Caribbean look like so many Lord Fauntleroys. You'll visit the homes of the secretive Japanese magistrates....more
Since discovering David Mitchell a little over a year ago, I have devoured all five of his novels to date. Yet I still cannot say what it is that keeps me impatiently coming back for more.

He is a master of voices. He breathes life into characters quickly and effortlessly. He is not afraid to dive into the unknowable mysteries embedded within us. Time, life, dreams, death. Without the crutches of belief or disbelief, he dances around questions of the soul. His villains are ofttimes as compelling...more
A transient, dubious point of intersection with a secluded, floating world. Two disparate spheres of influence navigating a treacherous turn of the century wherein the actions of either will determine the course of future events. A clash of civilizations where all involved parties are unwilling to cede even something as basic as acknowledgement to the other. Races laboring under the virulent delusion that skin color predetermines superiority or inferiority. Love in the time of prejudice and mutu...more


Voiceover : Lord Sugar is looking for a historical novelist to invest in. He scoured the country for the very best. Twelve were selected to begin the process. After six weeks of hard battling, only three are left.* It's the Apprentice Week Six!

(We see a montage of the three remaining contestants, David Mitchell, Hilary Mantel and Sarah Waters frantically typing away on laptops).

This week's task : to write a complete historical novel in only seven days. All th...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: two headachey stars out of five

The Publisher Says: In 1799, Jacob de Zoet disembarks on the tiny island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s remotest trading post in a Japan otherwise closed to the outside world. A junior clerk, his task is to uncover evidence of the previous Chief Resident’s corruption.

Cold-shouldered by his compatriots, Jacob earns the trust of a local interpreter and, more dangerously, becomes intrigued by a rare woman—a midwife permitted to study on Dejima under...more
A good, and exhaustively researched historical novel, but I didn't enjoy it as much as Mitchell's previous books, despite a life-and-death opening. Indeed, life and death is a continuing theme, both of individuals (a major character is a midwife) and of culture and empire. I was expecting greater variety from Mitchell. It turns out my mistake was to view this as a standalone novel, when actually, it the precursor to The Bone Clocks ( and https://www.goodre...more
On Mitchell's Writing

Mitchell is one of my favourite writers, and I really have to squee about how masterfully he uses words. Here’s an example of his writing in this novel. Mitchell is setting a scene where Jacob is waiting in the antechamber to his new boss’s office. Along the walls of the antechamber are displayed specimens of exotic animals preserved in formaldehyde. As he looks at the specimens, Jacob recalls the events that led him to this place. Now Mitchell could have written it rather c...more
Last month I was visiting the MFA in Boston. After an hour or two of wandering through rooms sporting giant, bombastic 19th century American paintings, I came upon a dim hall with small, colorful prints hanging from the wall, like this one:

Sugatami Bridge, Omokage Bridge, by Utagawa Hiroshige

This was my first taste of Utagawa Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, and I was immediately transfixed.

Although the Edo referred to in the Hiroshige prints is a place (a city later to be renamed Tokyo), Edo also refers to the period of Japanese hist...more
David Mitchell and I had not been introduced before. I knew he had written something about clouds and dreams and this looked pretty so I took it home with me.

It is a book about Jacob de Zoet, who in 1799 arrives as a clerk on Dejima, an artificial island near Nagasaki and the only point of contact between Japan and the outside world. It is also a book about an English ship and a mountain shrine and secret religious cult. It is a book about Orito, Japanese midwife whose face is half burnt but the...more
Ian Paganus de Fish
Exit Only Through the Sea Gate

"The Thousand Autumns" is set in Nagasaki over a period of almost 20 years beginning in 1799.

Dutch traders are restricted to an island in the harbour called "Dejima".

From the Japanese perspective, its name reflects the fact that it is an "exit island". Dutch ships arrive at and depart from the sea gate, while the Japanese officials and traders access the island through a land gate.

The Dutch are not permitted to enter Japan proper under the isolationist Sakoku pol...more
Stephen King
In this historical novel, an unassuming Dutch bookkeeper named Jacob de Zoet falls in love with a beautiful midwife in 18th-century Japan. When Miss Aiba-gawa is spirited away to a mountain monastery, Jacob finds the heroism in his soul. Here is a bygone secret world full of charm and horror. Mitchell is best known for Cloud Atlas, which was a literary stunt in this correspondent’s opinion. The Thousand Autumns is far better.
Is there anything David Mitchell can't do? Dazzling is the word for this. Fizzing with life, it appears at first to be a conventional historical novel, but then swoops into speculative fiction that is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood or Kazuo Ishiguro, with human babies being 'farmed' for nefarious reasons, then back to the historical world and a wonderfully exciting naval stand-off, where Our Hero is saved by his red hair. (You'll have to read it to find out). James Wood, a critic who I admire gr...more
Nandakishore Varma
The story of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a divide during a turbulent historical period is the staple of many an historical novel. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, at first glane, is just that: however, the author has entered uncharted waters by venturing into an area which is seldom explored in historical novels, by choosing Japan during her international isolation as the venue and making the clerk of the erstwhile Dutch East India company, the unlikely hero.

Jacob de Zoet has joine...more
David Mitchell's forte is the creation of fully formed worlds with numerous living, breathing characters, all written in beautiful, engaging prose.

I didn't think the subject matter of this novel would interest me at all (a trading post? a naval battle? not for me) but I was happy to live in this world with these characters while I was reading it. The plot is intricate but not cumbersome; details have meaning.

As in Cloud Atlas, there are recurring phrases and images that echo poetically througho...more

I believe that David Mitchell may be, of all the contemporary authors I've read, one of the most versatile. Although I could simply be mistakenly (again) be viewing his work as versatile. I believe there are meant to be some more of his meta-linguistic features in this book. Although I didn't stop any familiar characters. Reading Black Swan Green and Ghostwritten may help me to find those little hidden characters however.

The title of this book - which I think must be classed as a kind of zany hi...more
I was happy to see Mitchell try his hand at historical fiction. While he’s always been considered an immensely skilled writer and a superb storyteller, it's his inventive structuring that seems to bring forth the highest praise. Read Cloud Atlas to see if you agree. With this most recent work, as he said in a post-publication interview, he was trying a more straightforward narrative form – one without gewgaws (I think that was the word he used, or maybe it was “jiggery-pokery”). I’m pleased to r...more
Oct 24, 2010 Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
Giving this book three stars doesn't adequately represent its melange of 1-star and 5-star elements. The prose here walks a line between vivid and so purple that it's gushing persimmon juice over your lips... no, that's not quite a direct quote. The romance between two of the characters hangs on just a few meetings, one of which is an awful scene where they teach each other the words for "dew" in their respective languages. The entire middle section of the book rests on a fantastical plot elemen...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I really enjoyed this book immensely, probably a 4.5 of 5. It's so close to a 5 and someday I may return and decide it is.

The story grabbed me from the start and I believe that has to have some connection to Mitchell's skills as a writer and story teller as well as the story itself as tales of the sea and exploration are usually of no interest to me. His picture of the cultures of the time, both Japanese and the transplanted Europeans, captured my interest from the first pages and always had a f...more
That the cover of the trade paperback edition of David Mitchell’s 2010 novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet , is the spitting image of that of Hendrik Doeff’s nineteenth-century memoir, Recollections of Japan , is no small coincidence. Both covers, characterized by traditional Japanese art-inspired illustrations, depict the arrival of a large Western ship on Japanese shores. And rightly so, as both books tell of the experiences — fictional in one, real in the other — of an Occident livin...more
(First: I won this book on a Goodreads Firstreads offer which is really cool. Thanks to Goodreads and Random House.)

I've been hooked on David Mitchell ever since he began: Who was blowing on the nape of my neck? Who indeed. And since then every book has been an event. What will he do this time?

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is both historical and imagined. It's different of course from his other novels. One comes to expect and await that in Mitchell. But there is a common thread I think,...more
switterbug (Betsey)
This is a modern, woolly mastodon of a book, a book with tusks and chewing teeth, a throwback to the most towering storytelling in literary history. But it is also a Seraph, a three-paired-winged novel that is full of zeal and respect, humility and ethereal beauty, an airborne creature that gave me five days in heaven. And, it is a sea serpent, because it lifted itself up like a column and it grabbed and swallowed me. Whole.

Pardon me while I gush; I bow to the spirit and heartbeat of David Mitch...more
David Mitchell makes a worthy entry into the literature of clerks with The Thousand Autumns. I've puzzled before about why clerks make such good protagonists. I think now it's because they witness misdeeds petty and grave in the course of their duties. Everyone else considers them too powerless or worn down to do anything or doesn't consider them at all because they're invisible. And then, they record accounts and aren't we all keeping accounts in our lives, hopefully of something higher and mor...more
Grace Tjan
Jul 26, 2010 Grace Tjan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who loves good writing
Dejima, 1799. The Napoleonic Wars are raging in Europe, changing political loyalties seemingly overnight. The venerable VOC is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Dutch East Indies is about to fall into British hands. Japan has been isolated from the world for more than a hundred years.

This book seems like a conventional historical fiction at first --- the premise sounds similar to An Insular Possession. And hasn’t Japan been done to death with Shogun and Memoirs of a Geisha? But right on from...more
Marc Kozak
**Hyperbole in all caps alert**

(pregnant lady breath - hee hee hooooo)

Being a huge nerd in a mostly non-nerd world, it's hard to contain your frothing anticipation for a book from your favorite author. How many times have you recieved an advance reading copy that...more
Mitchell is supposed to be a master of voices, but he continually uses the same framework throughout this book.

"I wonder, thought (Character A), about (subject one)"


"He stopped to consider, thought (Character B), about (issue two)"

This sentence structure is pervasive throughout the otherwise mostly enjoyable 469 page novel. It becomes a very apparent tick before long. Additionally, about half way through, I became acutely aware that I may have been reading a romance novel, or at least a very...more
Nancy Oakes
First, a huge thanks to Librarything, where I received this book as part of the LT Early Reviewers' program. Somehow I think the algorithm is psychic, as I always seem to get the book I want most.

A second thank you to Random House for sending a copy that I had probably requested and forgotten about. That copy now is going to Librarything as part of its member giveaway program where people who requested it and didn't get it through ER will have another chance.
According to an interview with The T...more
this book is eye candy. DM fills it with language so rich and poetic that, if you like language, you'll be delighted. and he manages, always, not to be purple or cloying. maybe the language is Thousand Autumns' best asset. it works at multiple levels: the richest is descriptions. i didn't even try to keep up with the adjectival flourishes. nothing much is lost, for me, if language washes over me and the occasional (far from infrequent) pearl simply sucks all the light, leaves the rest of the sen...more
In many ways, this is a conventional historical novel with a lot of narrative push. It's hard to put down, a quality that generally puts me on guard. The story proceeds in linear fashion, after a brief introduction to Orito the midwife, with the arrival in 1799 of clerk Jacob de Zoet at Dejima, a Dutch East Indies Company trading outpost on an island in Nagasaki harbor. The novel ends with the death of Jacob de Zoet, approximately 40 years later, and approximately 20 years after his return to th...more
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David Mitchell was born in Southport, Merseyside, in England, raised in Malvern, Worcestershire, and educated at the University of Kent, studying for a degree in English and American Literature followed by an M.A. in Comparative Literature. He lived for a year in Sicily, then moved to Hiroshima, Japan, where he taught English to technical students for eight years, before returning to England. Afte...more
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Cloud Atlas Black Swan Green Ghostwritten number9dream The Bone Clocks

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“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love.” 129 likes
“Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike topped walls and treble-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas and dung-ripe stables; circle over towers and cavernous bells and over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells, watched by mule-drivers, mules and wolf-snouted dogs, ignored by hunch-backed makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nakashima River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed form kitchen doors, watched by farmers walking high, stony ridges. Gulls fly through clouds of steam from laundries' vats; over kites unthreading corpses of cats; over scholars glimpsing truth in fragile patterns; over bath-house adulterers, heartbroken slatterns; fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs; their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs; woodcutters' sons sharpening axes; candle-makers, rolling waxes; flint-eyed officials milking taxes; etiolated lacquerers; mottle-skinned dyers; imprecise soothsayers; unblinking liars; weavers of mats; cutters of rushes; ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes; booksellers ruined by unsold books; ladies-in-waiting; tasters; dressers; filching page-boys; runny-nosed cooks; sunless attic nooks where seamstresses prick calloused fingers; limping malingerers; swineherds; swindlers; lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses; heard-it-all creditors tightening nooses; prisoners haunted by happier lives and ageing rakes by other men's wives; skeletal tutors goaded to fits; firemen-turned-looters when occasion permits; tongue-tied witnesses; purchased judges; mothers-in-law nurturing briars and grudges; apothecaries grinding powders with mortars; palanquins carrying not-yet-wed daughters; silent nuns; nine-year-old whores; the once-were-beautiful gnawed by sores; statues of Jizo anointed with posies; syphilitics sneezing through rotted-off noses; potters; barbers; hawkers of oil; tanners; cutlers; carters of night-soil; gate-keepers; bee-keepers; blacksmiths and drapers; torturers; wet-nurses; perjurers; cut-purses; the newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant; the ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant; over the roof of a painter withdrawn first from the world, then his family, and down into a masterpiece that has, in the end, withdrawn from its creator; and around again, where their flight began, over the balcony of the Room of Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle from last night's rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.” 63 likes
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