Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell

"Miss Kawasemi?" Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. "Can you hear me?" In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates. 

Wow. David Mitchell writes about subjects as varied as 1980's England, to futuristic Korea, to- 1799 Japan. And he crafts this excellent novel just as well as Cloud Atlas, a book which I loved. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, is indeed, about a Dutch clerk named Jacob de Zoet in Japan. He is seeking to earn wealth to win Anna, his fiancee back in Holland. But then he meets Orito Aibagawa, a midwife with a strange burn across her face (much like the comet shaped birthmark in Cloud Atlas) and everything changes. He is irrationally fascinated by her. He forgets everything else he's come to Japan for, even proposing marriage. Then Orito gets sent to a harsh convent when her father dies.

The first 200 pages or so are narrated from Jacob's perspective. Then, it shifts to Orito (mainly). This book is very suspenseful; it took me several days to read it, but only because I was busy doing homework and transferring reviews to Goodreads (which is awesome, by the way). But I really wanted to finish it sooner.

I loved the setting; I don't know much about 18-19th century Japan, but it felt real to me, that's for sure. It was really interesting to see the different political shifts going on between the Dutch and the Japanese. They have a tenuous relationship; Japan isn't a colony of the Dutch, not really. It's complicated, and the tension there just adds to the book's drama. The Japanese and Dutch names are a bit confusing, but I recognized each person when they appeared in the scene, even if I couldn't tell you their exact name.

I didn't really understand Jacob's fascination with Orito; sure, she's a really smart woman, but I guess that's the whole point: it's an irrational infatuation, though it's also deeper than that, more spiritual, I guess you could say. The characters are all really complex; you can sympathize with most of them (except for Abbot Enomoto, that is).

There's also a lot of medical stuff in the book; one of the main characters is a rather cynical doctor (loved that character too.) There are some more graphic parts, just to warn you. Also, some of the stuff at the religious temple were really awful: the women are forced to be "gifted". Another sad example of religion gone terribly wrong. It was really disturbing.

I loved the title, though you don't really get it until later in the book. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet skilfully blends history and fiction together to create a mesmerizing novel.

Read The Two Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet:
  • if you like David Mitchell
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in Japan
  • if you like books set in the 19th century (1799, almost the 19th century)
  • if you like books with politics and/or medical stuff in them
479 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!


  1. But Anna just gets pushed to the side! She's waiting for him. I do like the idea of his irrational infatuation though probably because I like it when people go insane in books... but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Oh no... "gifted" that can't be good when it's followed by disturbing. This might not be one for me. Whenever I get into fiction like that I just get really sad. I've got to stop reading sad books. Otherwise it does sound cool but I think I rather read Cloud Atlas.

    1. Well, Anna didn't really love him, I don't think. It is really sad in parts. Cloud Atlas was amazing too!!