The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book came from the library with a post-it note on the inside cover: "This book is brilliant". I couldn't decide whether that was cute or annoying until I actually started reading, and now I completely understand what would push someone to resort to a post-it note. This book is brilliant!
David Mitchell is my new favourite. I have been trying to dissect the gushy love I have for this book but it comes out as a list of clinical words and concepts reminiscent of Mrs Chamberlain in my high school english lit class. Character building! Place setting! Literary devices! Things that put people off reading, and things that aren't necessarily apparent unless they're done particularly poorly, or perfectly. And in that case, they're often invisible.
Not so with The Thousand Autumns. It has the pace and plot of a thriller and the kind of robust and humanly flawed characters that are more real than the host of people you brush past in everyday life. There are the kind of parallel plot lines that can be dangerous for someone with a memory as pitiful as mine, but they are so luscious, and each as interesting as the other, that it works. Every time a chapter ended, I'd grit my teeth with a 'no, fuck you!' and then turn the page and 'ohhhh, yeah! argh!'.
It evokes the mindset of both 'the West' and Japan as Japan was grudgingly opening its doors to trade in the late 1700s, and Holland and England were combing the globe for more trade partners to wrangle with. Both sides with their racism and lack of comprehension of the strange and foreign values of the other. And, the individuals cutting through it, connecting with each other on a human level.
The Thousand Autumns is set in Japan at the turn of the 19th century, on the trading post of Dejima, Nagasaki. Jacob de Zoet is a clerk with the Dutch East India company, and the book charts his dealings and relations during his time there. The characters are perfect, with their simmering tension and backstabbing, history and motives.
It is set among politics of the relations between the Dutch traders stationed in Dejima, the Japanese interpreters and people with whom they came into contact. It's humorous without being funny, and very fun to read.
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