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Showing 1-10 of 318 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 547 reviews
on August 7, 2017
There is so much that is good about this book. The topic is interesting and new learning for me, which I love. The writing is quite beautiful. Characters are fine, and the story is decent. The descriptions of culture and the time period really whisked me away at times. At other times, I'm sorry to say, the book was just a little boring.
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on October 26, 2015
This novel goes behind the facts you learnt in Australian history about the Dutch East India Company sailing along our Western coast, often with tragic outcomes. And here we have the inside story of one employee of this company in the late 18th Century, attached to one of its remote operations off the Japanese coast. Jacob's life makes the reader become absorbed in what it must have like to work there in that time because it is so vividly told.
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on January 24, 2012
For starters, I should say that this is my first experience reading Mitchell. I've seen a lot of reviews referencing his other work, so I think it's best to point out that I'm starting from tabula rasa in that regard.

That said, the beginnings of this novel were promising -- the eponymous character's naïve struggle with the culture of corruption on Dejima and his infatuation with a disfigured midwife were engaging, and the characters were interesting and believable; Jacob de Zoet seems to be a genuinely likable character and his budding friendship with an interpreter, based at first on shared interests and later on shared secrets - was also fertile soil for this type of West-meets-East story. I enjoyed the author's prose, and the opening scenes drew me in well - a painful birth to open followed by the sentencing of Dejima's previous chief.

Around the halfway point is where the book started to lose me. The initial story is brought to a screeching halt and the bulk of the action shifted away from Dejima and re-centered on a cult of atrocious creeds on a remote mountain, and one I found so implausible and needlessly evil that the realism of the world so painstakingly recreated in the first half of the book was destroyed.

A long non-sequitur follows with the coming of the British to Nagasaki harbor, leading to a confusing climax which is never fully explained and which precipitates a sudden ending that feels tacked on, as though the author suddenly realized that a deadline was drawing near; the last few pages are a coda which feels strange and out of place.

To summarize, I would have enjoyed this book considerably more if it had stuck with the original story instead of pulling a bait-and-switch halfway through the novel; the change in focus and tone left me frustrated by the end and feeling like I was slogging through the book instead of enjoying an engaging story.
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on August 9, 2014
First of all, I feel certain that Eleanor Catton would have read this book during or before writing The Luminaries. Catton introduces Walter Moody in a tone that mirrors Mitchell's introduction of Jacob de Zoet.

Mitchell's book is awfully good and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I had but one quibble, regarding his protagonist, but it was enough to keep me from awarding the rare fifth star. De Zoet is a preacher's (adopted) nephew with an austere sense of morality. However, in a few crucial instances, he shows "street smarts" that such a person would have been unlikely to obtain. I'm thinking of the cards and the billiards. His savvy in those gambling situations seems to contradict the moral rectitude he shows during his first defining moment. This might not have been so noticeable had these events not been so central to the manner in which de Zoet's life at Dejima unfolds.

As I think about it, I guess one could defend the book by saying de Zoet is intentionally drawn with a touch of Oscar Hopkins in him but he is not hopelessly naïve in the way that Carey's character is; indeed, Jacob is quite self-aware. Still, the similarities are concrete enough to make one pause. Specifically, both are Romantic, red-headed, pious European transplants with a taste for gambling. Ultimately, though, while Oscar is without guile, Jacob evinces quite a bit. This calls into question the latter protagonist's momentous decision, which will too obviously be to his detriment. It feels like a device to extend the plot.

Otherwise, the writing is wonderful and the book appears to be quite well-researched. Admittedly, though, I can claim absolutely no knowledge of Japanese cultural life in the 18th century. The above complaint aside, there is every reason to read this book, maybe together with Oscar and Lucinda.
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on March 5, 2015
Every time I read a new David Mitchell novel I think, well, this is simply his best novel yet, until I read the next one and then....you get the gist. Now I am all caught up on his novels and yes this is his best one which is saying quite a lot. Twist of plot, turn of phrase, erudite statements on the bittersweet human condition, it's got it all. Sadly, years will have to go by before we get another one.
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on July 22, 2015
About a third of the way through the book, the story hits a brick wall and slows down considerably. This almost lead me to put it down. I assure you however, it is well worth the effort as the story picks up to a feverish intensity. This was my first Mitchell book and it will definitely not be the last in that even during the slower times the book is so well written that you don't mind just hanging out reading about linguistic intricacies of the Japanese language. When the story does then begin to come together, you hang on every word. Highly recommend.
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on March 21, 2013
Given that the only book by David Mitchell that I had read before was Cloud Atlas, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - I knew it was widely regarded, but little more than that, not even the setting. (And, from what I've read, it's not quite as genre-bending as some of Mitchell's other works, so it may not have been a representative choice from his works.) What I got, in many ways, couldn't be more different from Cloud Atlas, but it's no less beautiful, powerful, and astonishingly well-written, and by the time I finished it, I knew I had read another masterpiece from Mitchell. A historical fiction, Thousand Autumns details the lives of officers in the Dutch East Indies company stationed near Nagasaki right around the dawn of the 19th century. That's a wholly, utterly foreign world to most Western readers, and much of the book's first section finds Mitchell exploring the culture and society through his characters, letting the world come to life as he subtly sows seeds for the plot threads to come. And then, before you know it, you're lost in Mitchell's rich world, entranced by his complicated, utterly human characters, and caught up in his dense plotting, which involves everything from the British empire to a sect of Japanese monks with horrific beliefs. And just when you think Mitchell has lost track of everything, he pulls it together in two astonishing final chapters that left me stunned, moved, and on the verge of tears at his powerful ending. But the plotting is never really the focus of Thousand Autumns; what fascinates Mitchell, and by extension, the reader, are the characters that populate the world, and the way they're governed by their pasts, their cultures, their senses of honor and betrayal, and a desire to make the most of their lives as best as they can. What Mitchell ends up doing here is telling a story that could be told at no other time in history, but making it beautifully, wonderfully contemporary in the emotions and feelings it deals with. More than that, he succeeds in immersing you in a world that you could never experience, and makes it come to life in such a vivid way that you not only picture it, but can feel yourself getting lost in it. And that, along with Mitchell's astonishing, beautiful prose, makes Thousand Autumns a masterpiece worth savoring.
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on November 18, 2014
Another in David Mitchell's amazing novels. Like all of Mitchell's books, this one makes a strong argument for the importance of human experience and connectedness, culture and history, and human action in determining our futures. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is filled with hints about the cosmology that Mitchell more fully developed in his next book, The Bone Clocks. The book can be read as a historical novel of love and adventure, but it will go far beyond that for readers willing to take the time to savor the book's patterns (a favorite word/concept of Mitchell's, and a driving force behind his world view). Think the cloud patterns and music of Cloud Atlas, written before this book, as a metaphor for the way each of us consciously and unconsciously impacts the social, political, economic and physical world by what we do and, as, if not more importantly, don't do.
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on May 11, 2017
This was the first of David Mitchell's books I read. Upon finishing, this became one of my favorite books I have ever read. This book is so beautifully written. I am not one for writing myself, so it kills me to not be able to put better words to my feelings for this book. This is a must read. Don't be overwhelmed by the amount of characters!
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on June 5, 2016
First, fans of David Mitchell, should know that this is NOT another science fiction book. It is historic fiction and it shows the Mitchell has an amazing breadth of skill. The details of what life must have been like in 1700's Japan jump off the pages and are a delight. The book could have used more editing to make it a more cohesive (and perhaps more concise) story, but it is well worth the read. I loved the minor characters of this book, in particular, as Mitchell gives colorful, funny, and sometimes touching side stories. Mitchell has a great sense of humor in describing the rough aspects living at that time and the sometimes rough motivation of the characters. It also has some beautifully written passages. I would definitely recommend this book.
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