Spiros'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 17, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: arc, chasingmytail, new
Recommended for: anybody who can read
Read from March 31 to April 09, 2010 , read count: twice

Christmas in April. David Mitchell has established a pattern, alternating intricate, mind-blowing narratives (GHOSTWRITTEN, CLOUD ATLAS), with brilliant novels (NUMBER9DREAM, BLACK SWAN GREEN). The pattern continues with this, the story of Jacob de Zoet, a young, ingenuous, priggish but fundamentally decent clerk, seconded to Dejima, the trading enclave of the Dutch East Indies Company in Nagasaki harbor. The narrative follows Jacob's variable fortunes in a few extremely eventful years at the turn of the 19th century, in which his path crosses those of rogues, bureaucrats, saints, and a degenerate monastic order. I will be reading this again in June, when I get my hands on the cloth-bound edition.

Every bit as wondrous a read the second time around, losing nothing from being a signed first printing; I would just add my favorite short passage from the book, which a formatting error caused me to drop from my previous note:

"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 triple-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 hunchbacked makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nakashima River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed from kitchen doors, walked 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 bathhouse adulterers; heartbroken slatterns; fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs; their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs; woodcutters' sons sharpening axes; candlemakers rolling waxes; flint-eyed officials milking taxes; etioliated lacquerers; mottled-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 aging 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 and 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; gatekeepers; beekeepers; blacksmiths and drapers; torturers; wet nurses; perjurers; cutpurses; the newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant; the ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant; over the roof of a piainter withdrawn first from the world, then his family, and down into the masterpiece that has, in the end, withdrawn from its creator; and around again, where their flight began, over the balcony of the Room of the Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle of last night's rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through the spokes of sunlight. 'This world', he thinks, 'contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.'"

And so Magistrate Shiroyama prepares for his death.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Roman I WANT.

Marc Horton Read a review in some major magazine or other, and they liked it, aside from "a misguided passage written in verse." Which, having read the book, I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. At a reading, Mitchell read this particular passage aloud, and I said, "AHA: THAT passage in verse." And it was wondrous. And my only thought then, for the reviewer--obviously, a hack--was, "misguided? really?"

Spiros James Wood, in "the New Yorker", expressed misgivings about Mitchell writing a novel in such a debased genre as historical fiction; the points were valid, even if I disagreed with them. Here it is: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics...

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