The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

thousand autumns“The Thousand Autumns…” introduced me to a setting that I’d heard little of, that of Dejima (in Nagasaki Bay), the Dutch East India Company trading post in 1799, in a period when even to bring a Christian book into Japan was a crime. Through Mitchell’s character, the clerk de Zoet, we learn about everyday life – medical treatment (rough), life on the post (rough), the role of women (rough), crime and punishment (extremely rough) – and how to flirt across cultures.

I found Dr. Marinus and Captain Penhaligon more interesting than de Zoet or Orito, presumably the main characters. However, I found the plot excessive, convoluted, and implausible, with too much emphasis on action and a naval battle. The scenes are well-written, but I felt I was flying between them with scanty connections.

Mitchell frequently presents actions or thoughts of his characters interspersed with rich descriptions – birches shivering, sounds of a street vendor, wind rattling screens “like a deranged prisoner.” These had a cinematic quality to me – the camera or microphone swiveling back and forth between the character and the settlng.

Reviewed by Sarav

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