Bonnie's Reviews > The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
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's review
Jul 23, 2014

liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, world-lit-asia, 2010-books, booker-prize-nominees

This book had everything going for it: (1) I love history and historical fiction, especially when it's obviously well-researched and realistic and not just modern-day-with-corsets [YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE] (2) I LOVED Cloud Atlas. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and Mitchell was a literary god (3) I am of Dutch descent and this book is set in the Dutch trading port of Dejima (4) I lived in Japan for two years and there is a real dearth of fiction set in Japan available in English. It made me quite nostalgic.

So with all of that, I was set to love the book. And then...I didn't. It became one of those books that sits in my room and I stare at it and KNOW I have to finish it because I can't move on to the next book until I do. But it's so damn slow and since I live in a constant state of sleep deprivation when a book bores me I start to nod off (literally).

There were certain chapters that I really liked. I thought the beginning was good, the middle was slow and plodding and then it picked up again in the last 100 pages.

The biggest problem was that I couldn't get invested in Jacob de Zoet. He's a good guy! He's very moral! He almost always tries to do the right thing, even if it hurts him! He learns Japanese! He treats other races with courtesy/respect! He's brave! And he's boring. Part of the problem was that he was stuck in a stupid love plot that I couldn't bring myself to care about. So Jacob shows up in Dejima and falls in lust with the smart young medicine woman Orito Aibagawa. I mean, Mitchell acts like this is an epic love story but they talk about twice, Jacob becomes obsessed with Orito from the first time they meet and Orito gives no indication ever that she is in love with him. I felt like the entire romance angle should've been dropped. It did nothing but drag the story down and annoy me.

Plus, the story went from something really realistic (down to the racist/sexist attitudes) to bizarre. I'll just say that a baby-eating immortality-seeking whoring out nuns to monks cult appears. I AM NOT KIDDING. The entire middle part of the book is one giant WTF. It's like a different book hijacked the first book. The only reason that plot was okay at all was that it led to an Epic Moment of Badass at the end of the story.

I wish the story had centered around the translator Ogawa Uzaemon, Jacob's friend. He was way more awesome and well-rounded than Jacob. Jacob's flaw was essentially that he was so moral that it hurt him. THAT IS NOT AN ADEQUATE FLAW. I'm sorry, but being "too good" for your own good makes you boring. Ogawa had real, human, flaws.

Also, Mitchell, I know you are a brilliant writer. I know you have an amazing knack for dialogue. I know that you are fully capable of writing in a bunch of different voices very authentically. I don't need you to jump to a bunch of different character's POVs just to show off this ability when it adds nothing to the story.

Final note: no clue where the title comes from, as Jacob does not gain immortality and live for 1000 autumns like I had thought from the title/description.

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