Reviews for Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet : A Novel


Booklist Reviews 2010 April #2
*Starred Review* Two-time Booker finalist Mitchell applies his wide-ranging talents to this innovative historical epic. Dejima, an artificial island created as a trading outpost in Nagasaki Harbor, proves fertile ground for exploring intercultural relations, trust and betrayal, racial and gender boundaries, the search for identity, and unexpected love in a changing world. In 1799, when the Netherlands held a trade monopoly with isolationist Japan, Jacob de Zoet, a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company, is charged with uncovering fraud in his predecessors' ledgers. As Jacob doggedly pursues an honest course, he becomes romantically intrigued by Orito Aibagawa, a gifted, disfigured midwife granted special permission to study on Dejima. Mitchell incorporates diverse styles, and he expertly adapts tone and dialogue to reflect his situations. In the main plotline, incisive commentary on decisions and unforeseen consequences filters through a jaunty, slang-filled tale in which Japanese and Dutchmen arrange public and private deals. Interlinked subplots offer creepy gothic drama, seafaring adventure, and race-against-time suspense. Despite the audacious scope, the focus remains intimate; each fascinating character--interpreter, herbalist, magistrate, slave--has the opportunity to share his or her story. Everything is patched together seamlessly and interwoven with clever wordplay and enlightening historical details on feudal Japan. First-rate literary fiction and a rousing good yarn, too. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2010 May #1
Another Booker Prize nomination is likely to greet this ambitious and fascinating fifth novel--a full-dress historical, and then some--from the prodigally gifted British author (Black Swan Green, 2006, etc.).In yet another departure from the postmodern Pynchonian intricacy of his earlier fiction, this is the story of a devout young Dutch Calvinist (the eponymous Jacob) sent in 1799 to Japan, where the Dutch East India Company, aka the VOC, had opened trade routes more than two centuries earlier. But now the Company is threatened by the envious British Empire, which seeks to appropriate the Far East's rich commercial opportunities. Jacob's purpose is to acquire sufficient wealth and experience to earn the hand of his fiancée Anna. But his mission is to serve as a ship's clerk while simultaneously investigating charges of corruption against the Company's powerful Chief Resident. When a scandal involving the seizure of the much-desired commodity of copper is manipulated to implicate Jacob, he is posted to the artificially constructed island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, becoming a de facto prisoner of an insular little world of rigorously patterned and controlled cultural--and commercial--rituals. Meanwhile, the story of Aibagawa Orita, a facially disfigured (hence unmarriageable) midwife authorized to study with the Company's doctor (the saturnine Marinus, a kind of Pangloss to Jacob's earnest Candide), punished for having aspired beyond her station, and the moving story of her planned escape from servitude and reunion with the beloved (Uzaeman) forbidden to marry her (which contains deft echoes of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Ondaatje's The English Patient), mocks, as it exalts, Jacob's concealed love for this extraordinary woman. The story climaxes as British forces challenge the Dutch hold on the East's riches, and Jacob's long ordeal hurtles toward its conclusion.It's as difficult to put this novel down as it is to overestimate Mitchell's virtually unparalleled mastery of dramatic construction, illuminating characterizations and insight into historical conflict and change. Comparisons to Tolstoy are inevitable, and right on the money. Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2010 February #2
Eager to earn the money he needs to marry, Jacob de Zoet heads to late 1700s Dejima, the Japanese empire's only port and outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company. But he gets his head turned by the island's wild side and a samurai's disfigured daughter. I love it that Mitchell can write a book like this and Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green. With a seven-city tour. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

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Library Journal Reviews 2010 April #2

It is a rare novel that's so captivating that the reader feels transported through time and fully immersed in an unfamiliar culture and place, and this is such a novel. Mitchell, a Man Booker Prize finalist for Cloud Atlas, returns with a story set at the turn of the 18th century around Dejima, an artificial island located in Nagasaki Bay and used as a trade outpost by the Dutch East Indies Company. A small group of mostly Dutch merchants lives on Dejima under the watchful eye of Japanese guards, government officials, and translators. Clerk Jacob de Zoet comes to Dejima for a period of five years to make his fortune and return to marry his wealthy fiancée in Holland. An honest man, Jacob intends to put the company's financial records in order and root out corruption, but after meeting midwife Orito Aibagawa, he becomes entangled in events far more sinister than forged ledgers. VERDICT This painstakingly researched and original novel is hard to pin to any one genre, for it is a historical novel and cultural study with plenty of intrigue and mystery mixed in. It is intelligent and utterly readable at the same time. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/10.]--Shaunna Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 April #2

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, nave 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. (July)

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