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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 29, 2010

497 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2010: David Mitchell reinvents himself with each book, and it's thrilling to watch. His novels like Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas spill over with narrators and language, collecting storylines connected more in spirit than in fact. In The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, he harnesses that plenitude into a more traditional form, a historical novel set in Japan at the turn into the 19th century, when the island nation was almost entirely cut off from the West except for a tiny, quarantined Dutch outpost. Jacob is a pious but not unappealing prig from Zeeland, whose self-driven duty to blurt the truth in a corrupt and deceitful trading culture, along with his headlong love for a local midwife, provides the early engine for the story, which is confined at first to the Dutch enclave but crosses before long to the mainland. Every page is overfull with language, events, and characters, exuberantly saturated in the details of the time and the place but told from a knowing and undeniably modern perspective. It's a story that seems to contain a thousand worlds in one. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Mitchell's rightly been hailed as a virtuoso genius for his genre-bending, fiercely intelligent novels Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas. Now he takes something of a busman's holiday with this majestic historical romance set in turn-of-the-19th-century Japan, where young, naïve Jacob de Zoet arrives on the small manmade island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor as part of a contingent of Dutch East Indies officials charged with cleaning up the trading station's entrenched culture of corruption. Though engaged to be married in the Netherlands, he quickly falls in hopeless love with Orito Aibagawa, a Dutch-trained Japanese midwife and promising student of Marinus, the station's resident physician. Their courtship is strained, as foreigners are prohibited from setting foot on the Japanese mainland, and the only relationships permitted between Japanese women and foreign men on Dejima are of the paid variety. Jacob has larger trouble, though; when he refuses to sign off on a bogus shipping manifest, his stint on Dejima is extended and he's demoted, stuck in the service of a vengeful fellow clerk. Meanwhile, Orito's father dies deeply in debt, and her stepmother sells her into service at a mountaintop shrine where her midwife skills are in high demand, she soon learns, because of the extraordinarily sinister rituals going on in the secretive shrine. This is where the slow-to-start plot kicks in, and Mitchell pours on the heat with a rescue attempt by Orito's first love, Uzaemon, who happens to be Jacob's translator and confidant. Mitchell's ventriloquism is as sharp as ever; he conjures men of Eastern and Western science as convincingly as he does the unscrubbed sailor rabble. Though there are more than a few spots of embarrassingly bad writing (How scandalized Nagasaki shall be, thinks Uzaemon, if the truth is ever known), Mitchell's talent still shines through, particularly in the novel's riveting final act, a pressure-cooker of tension, character work, and gorgeous set pieces. It's certainly no Cloud Atlas, but it is a dense and satisfying historical with literary brawn and stylistic panache.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065453
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065455
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (497 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Mitchell is the award-winning and bestselling author of Slade House, The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

588 of 613 people found the following review helpful By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

The story begins in the year 1799, and most of the action takes place on the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki, Japan. This is the farthest outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company and foreigners are kept restricted to the island. It's the only contact point between Japan and the West.

This epic tale starts out dramatically with a young midwife helping a Japananese magistrate's concubine with a difficult birth. The midwife is named Orito Aibagawa, and she has a disfiguring scar on one side of her face. With the support of her father she begins to study medicine under the tutelage of the brilliant Doctor Marinus.

After this dramatic opening, we are introduced to Jacob de Zoet, a young Dutch clerk who has just arrived in Dejima. Jacob is hoping to work for 5 years and make enough money to go home and marry his fiancee. He stands out not simply because he is so virtuous and decent, but also because of the color of his hair - bright red. Jacob will learn that his fellow merchants, supervisors and Japanese translators are not always to be trusted, and that things are not always as they appear.

Other important characters in this novel include Ogawa Uzaemon, an honorable young translator who faces a difficult moral dilemma. We meet high-ranking Japanese officials including Magistrate Shiroyama and the malevalent Lord Abbot Enomoto. In fact there is a huge cast of characters, many with their own fascinating backstories. And did I mention a thieving monkey named William Pitt?

This book is wonderful on so many levels. It succeeds as a rousing old-fashioned adventure tale with nail-biting scenes taking place on both land and at sea.
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148 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is quite simply the best historical novel I have read in years, Tolstoyan in its scope and moral perception, yet finely focused on a very particular place and time. The place: Dejima, a Dutch trading post on a man-made island in Nagasaki harbor that was for two centuries Japan's only window on the outside world. The time: a single year, 1799-1800, although here Mitchell takes the liberties of a novelist, compressing the events of a decade, including the decline of the Dutch East India Company and Napoleon's annexation of Holland, into a mere twelve months. He plays smaller tricks with time throughout the novel, actually, alternating between the Japanese calendar and the Gregorian one, then jumping forwards and backwards between chapters. The effect is to heighten the picture of two hermetic worlds removed from the normal course of history. One is Japan itself (the Thousand Autumns of the title), a strictly hierarchical feudal society, deliberately maintaining its isolation and culture. The other is the equally hierarchical society on Dejima itself, comprised of Dutch merchant officers, a polyglot collection of hands, and a few slaves, whose only contact with the outside world is the annual arrival of a ship from Java. To these, Mitchell adds two more hermetic worlds: an isolated mountain monastery in the second part of the book, and an English warship in the third. Without spoilers, I cannot reveal how these connect, but Mitchell's writing will carry you eagerly from one event to the next.

The author has the rare ability to work on three narrative scales simultaneously: small, medium, and large.
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279 of 320 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Dillingham VINE VOICE on June 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The confrontation between east and west, between xenophobic Japan and anyone from the outside world but especially Christian Europe, has generated many histories and history-based fictions. Among the best known is James Clavell's Shogun, and by far the best overall is Shusaku Endo's Silence. I mention these because the opening chapters of David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet instantly generate expectations based on those two novels, among others. The arrival of the young Jacob, a devout Christian, at the Dutch trading port of Dejima, adjacent to Nagasaki, is tense and threatening because he attempts to bring in a Psalter; if it is identified by the watchful Japanese officials, his least fate would be expulsion from Japan--but he might be subjected to far worse treatment. This begins Jacob's lengthy immersion in the stew of conflicting social and religious and cultural values that swirl in Dejima. In many ways, his worst conflicts are with his own countrymen, a variety of petty and sometimes grand thieves and swindlers whose frauds Jacob--an accountant who is assigned to bring the financial records of the Dutch East India post up to date and to some standard of honesty--inevitably is forced to reveal, with dire consequences because of the anger and hatred he generates when he undercuts the profitmaking schemes of the officers and employees of the shipping and trading companies.Read more ›
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