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Book DetailsISBN: 9780340921586
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Book Review: Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell - Reviewed by CloggieA (13 Jun 2013)
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the fifth novel by award-winning British author, David Mitchell, who classifies it as historical fiction. Jacob de Zoet is a young Dutch clerk, a Zeelander working for the Dutch East India Company, on a five-year clerical post to Java, where he hopes to make his fortune in order to marry his Dutch sweetheart. He arrives in Nagasaki with the new Chief Resident-elect of Dejima, an island enclave to which the Dutch traders are confined. Soon after his arrival, he encounters a young Japanese midwife with whom he promptly falls in love. Mitchell slowly and carefully crafts his plot to reach a dramatic climax. Mitchell’s potted histories of his characters contribute to their depth and appeal, as well as developing the plot. His dialogue sounds genuine, especially the rendering of translated language. Mitchell gives the reader a fascinating peek into the world that was European trade with Japan in the late 18th century. This was a world filled with corruption, bribery, execution and religious persecution. De Zoet learns the diplomacy and the political tactics necessary in dealing with the Japanese, and that men of honour and integrity are few and far between. This novel makes the historical facts, which might have been dry and unpalatable, interesting and easy to assimilate. De Zoet is loosely based on Hendrick Doeff, one of Dejima’s real Chief Residents. Mitchell does bend a few historical facts: the incident on which the climax is based actually happened somewhat later; the reference by characters in 1799 to the mass eradication of Tasmanian aborigines is premature; nonetheless, this does not detract from the novel in any way. Some of the prose is truly beautiful: Mitchell manages to be quite lyrical about clouds and weather; there are also several charming illustrations. This is a brilliant novel and easily the best I have read in a long time.
Born in 1969, David Mitchell grew up in Worcestershire. After graduating from Kent University, he taught English in Japan, where he wrote his first novel, Ghostwritten. Published in 1999, it was awarded the Mail on Sunday John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His second novel, number9dream, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and in 2003, David Mitchell was selected as one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists. His third novel, Cloud Atlas, was shortlisted for six awards including the Man Booker Prize, and adapted for film in 2012. It was followed by Black Swan Green, shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which was a No. 1 Sunday Times bestseller. Both were also longlisted for the Booker. In 2013, The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice From the Silence of Autism by Naoki Higashida was published in a translation from the Japanese by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida. David Mitchell's sixth novel is The Bone Clocks (Sceptre, 2014).
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