Mary'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
Jun 05, 2012

really liked it
Read from September 11 to October 22, 2010

This is a story set about 1800 in Dejima, an island off the coast of from Nagasaki where the Dutch have a trading post that is highly restricted on contact with the country and its people, as the Japanese at the time did not want any contact with foreigners. The story focuses on Jacob de Zoet, a bookkeeper who has come to work there for five years, as well as a midwife, Miss Aibagawa, with whom de Zoet is taken,and Ogawa, a translator who is a friend and unbeknown to de Zoet, was also in love with Miss Aibagawa but who was forbidden by his father to marry her.

I was having trouble with the title of this book until the British sailors had the discussion of "the Japanese", commenting on the tendency to use poetic place names, such as "The Land of a Thousand Autumns" for the country - aha, the title of the book might also be The Japan of Jacob de Zoet, which resonates a lot with me. An intelligent, sympathetic man, he recognizes to the end that he is an outsider, with a superficial grasp on the situation, although he does develop a deep affection for many of the Japanese.

I would give this book 4.5 stars if I could - I had some trouble following the Japanese names, which alternated between last names in one section (Miss Aibagawa, the translator Ogawa; later called Orito and Uzaemon when their stories are being told) but this may be more my fault, as the characters were well fleshed out, whether Japanese or western. I was pleased that the key incidents in the book were positively reconciled, and I concede that a personal reconciliation would have only been appropriate for a romantic novel.

One scene in the book that really stayed with me was the description of the operation to remove the gallstone from Gerritszoon - I expect it was extensively researched, and the language was striking.

In other places Mitchell's use of language is equally powerful, or is just his taking a detour to have fun. For instance, in the chapter towards the end when Shiroyama is preparing to commit ritual suicide, we get a description of what he is seeing from the veranda from the veranda which is straight out of western children's rhyming poetry, e.g., Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas, and dung-ripe stables, etc.
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Cecily Now that you've read The Bone Clocks, you'll see this in a whole new light.

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