May 2nd, 2010 by Thomas Stofer
Author: David Mitchell
Title: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
Trade Paperback: 472 pages
Publication Date: 13/05/2010
With immense embarrassment I must admit that until recently I believed that David Mitchell the author was the same person as David Mitchell the comedian.
Having got that revelation out of my system, let me come to Mitchell’s fifth book [on the positive side of my mistake, at least I have four of his novels to look forward to reading in the future]. Beginning in 1799, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet revolves around the young Dutch clerk Jacob de Zoet and his existence on Dejima, an artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki and Dutch trading post during Japan’s self-imposed annexation.
De Zoet is himself a moral island amongst a sea of corrupt colleagues and the brutal and unjust anti-European laws of Japan. Matters are further complicated when he falls in love with Orito, a scholarly midwife allowed to learn medicine on Dejima. But her abduction to the Abbot Enomoto’s Shrine of Shiranui – a baby-farm disguised as a convent – starts a dangerous and deadly attempt to rescue her.
Having read – and loved – James Clavell’s Asian Saga as a teenager, I have always been intrigued by Japan and its culture. Mitchell, having lived in Japan, easily inhabits the landscape and creates a potent mixture of murder, intrigue, betrayal and love. What I especially enjoyed was the gamut of characters that make up this novel; they are all so beautifully rendered that you get the feeling that every single one could have their own novel. A complex and rewarding read.