Saturday, 6 August 2011

Review:- David Mitchell – “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet ”

Year Published: - 2010
Where the book was from:- My own copy - Thousand Reader’s Edition
SBN: - 978 0 340 92158 6
Pages: - 560pp
Genre: - Historical fiction
Location:- Nagasaki, Japan 1799
How I came across it: - Sent it free by “We Love This Book
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- I’m not especially interested in the history of Japan or Dutch colonists and 1799 is between my favourite periods but this book is so excellent that one becomes absorbed in Jacob’s story from the first pages.

The Blurb:-
The back cover of my edition reads as follows:-

In your hands is a place like no other: a tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. Instead he loses his heart…
“A new book with its pristine pages and smooth spine is a beginning. Anything can happen, and some of it will. Provided your tastes and my writing are compatible, and assuming I’ve done my job properly, the slinky cat of fiction will now (I hope) settle on your lap and persuade you that Jacob, Orito and Ogawa are real people and that de Zoet’s lodgings in Dejima, the cells of Mount Shiranui and Penhaligon’s cabin aboard the HHMS Phoebus are as real as the rooms of your house.”
David Mitchell

Who could fail to read a book that introduced itself in such a manner?

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The year is 1799, the place Dejima, the "high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island" that is the Japanese Empire's single port and sole window to the world. It is also the farthest-flung outpost of the powerful Dutch East Indies Company. Jacob de Zoet, a young, devout and ambitious, but very honest, clerk must spend time in the East to earn enough money to deserve the hand of his Dutch fiancée. But Jacob's intentions are thrown into doubt when he meets Orito Aibagawa, the beautiful but badly scarred daughter of a Samurai, trainee doctor and midwife Nagasaki’s magistrate. In this world where East and West are linked by one bridge, Jacob sees the gaps shrink between pleasure and piety, propriety and profit.

General comments:- The latest good book one has read tends often to ‘the best read for ages’ and so this has proved to be. One sign of a good book is that you miss it. Days after finishing it you want to carry on reading about the characters and enjoying the style. You want a sequel, even if it has to move on to the next generation and events of later years. Brilliantly written in a unique and compelling style, a superb mix of historical research and imagination, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a big and unforgettable book that should be on everyone’s ‘to read’ list. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010 and would have had my vote.

‘”Aiba” is “indigo”, her pride in her name is plain, ‘and “gawa” is “river.’

I wish, he thinks, spoken words could be captured and kept in a locket.

‘My pronounce,’ Miss Aibagawa asks, ‘is not very good?’
‘No, no, no; you are perfect in every way. Your pronounce is perfect.’

Jacob reverberates with the parts and entirety of Orito, with all the her-ness of her.

‘We have a proverb.’ The interpreter pours himself a bowl of tea. ‘”Nothing is more costly than item that has no price.”’

‘The soul is a verb… not a noun.’

The wind passes through Flag Square, soft as a robe’s hem.

‘I have performed upwards of fifty lithotomies and lost four. Two were not my fault. The two were… well we live and learn, even if our dead patients cannot say the same.’

Once, Shiroyama’s father taught him, nobility and samurai ruled Japan…. But now it is Deception, Greed, Corruption and Lust who govern.

If only, Shiroyama dreams, human beings were not masks behind masks behind masks.

AUTHOR Notes:-
David Mitchell was born in 1969 and grew up in Worcestershire. After graduating from Kent University he spent several years teaching in Japan before settling in Ireland with his wife and two children. His first novel, ‘Ghostwritten’, was published by Sceptre in 1999 to great acclaim and won the Mail on Sunday / John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. His second novel, ‘Number9dream’ (2001) was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He was chosen as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists 2003.

1 comment:

  1. such beautiful weaving of words! Now I must see if my library has it.


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