The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

A Novel

Book - 2010
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By the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas | Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

In 2007, Time magazine named him one of the most influential novelists in the world. He has twice been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The New York Times Book Review called him simply "a genius." Now David Mitchell lends fresh credence to The Guardian 's claim that "each of his books seems entirely different from that which preceded it." The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a stunning departure for this brilliant, restless, and wildly ambitious author, a giant leap forward by even his own high standards. A bold and epic novel of a rarely visited point in history, it is a work as exquisitely rendered as it is irresistibly readable.

The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the "high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island" that is the Japanese Empire's single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay; the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company; and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes, and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancée back in Holland.

But Jacob's original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city's powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken. The consequences will extend beyond Jacob's worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, "Who ain't a gambler in the glorious Orient, with his very life?"

A magnificent mix of luminous writing, prodigious research, and heedless imagination, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the most impressive achievement of its eminent author.

Praise for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
"A page-turner . . . [David] Mitchell's masterpiece; and also, I am convinced, a masterpiece of our time." --Richard Eder, The Boston Globe
"An achingly romantic story of forbidden love . . . Mitchell's incredible prose is on stunning display. . . . A novel of ideas, of longing, of good and evil and those who fall somewhere in between [that] confirms Mitchell as one of the more fascinating and fearless writers alive." --Dave Eggers, The New York Times Book Review
"The novelist who's been showing us the future of fiction has published a classic, old-fashioned tale . . . an epic of sacrificial love, clashing civilizations and enemies who won't rest until whole family lines have been snuffed out." --Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"By any standards, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a formidable marvel." --James Wood, The New Yorker
"A beautiful novel, full of life and authenticity, atmosphere and characters that breathe." --Maureen Corrigan, NPR
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2010.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781400065455
Characteristics: 479 p. ; 25 cm.


From the critics

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Feb 05, 2019

Having visited Nagasaki, I was really up for reading this book. Alas, I didn't particularly care for it. Initially, the book is written in the present tense although it takes place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I got used to it, but I didn't like it. I found the book's characters rather wooden and while the plot of the story was interesting, I didn't think the author did it justice. I do agree that it gets better after the first section, but all in all, a disappointment.

Jun 21, 2018

Mitchell's exceptionally sensuous text drips with the sounds, smells, dialects, and subtle gestures of feudal Tokugawa Japan.
His classicizing tale plumbs the depths of human emotion, with a doomed love story at its heart, with healthy doses of implacable enemies, the clash of cultures and religions, ambitious rivals, imperial greed and corruption, swashbuckling adventure, and even a bit of the macabre.

SCL_Justin Jul 24, 2017

David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is about the Dutch in Nagasaki at the end of the 18th century. Jacob is a clerk who’s there to make his fortune so he can go back home to marry. Things don’t work out as he’d hoped and he has to become much better at politics than he was on arrival.

Mitchell splits up the narrative between a few different viewpoint characters in the book, which gives us not just the colonial perspective on what’s going on. The most troublesome part of the book for me was the nefarious practices going on in the mountain abbey. While the rest of the book felt like a more-restrained part of The Baroque Cycle, the abbey rumours were exceedingly pulpy and over the top. It made for a weird tone, since I wasn’t sure if the overly lurid doings were supposed to be taken seriously or if they were being overdone as a statement about exoticization/orientalism or if they were just weird.

In the end it was a satisfying story, but not as impressive as something like number9dream or Cloud Atlas.

Apr 19, 2017

I tried to read this but couldn't finish it. Not even character driven. Just boring.

Nov 02, 2015

When I started reading the book I thought "this is going to be a good read" but as I slogged through page after page I realized the story was just turning into a yarn, although some of the descriptive language was beautiful. The bit about the "mad monks" was bizarre and I don't think it added to the story. The historical setting did provide an insight into the brutal and corrupt practices of the Dutch East Indies Trading Company in the 1800's and it is not a flattering picture.

Oct 13, 2015

"History is not, after all, what really happened, but only what we believe happened."-David Mitchell
There is no disputing English author David Mitchell's technical ability. His best-know novel, "Cloud Atlas," was a virtuoso performance, yet it failed to cohere as a narrative and its ambition was more often exhausting than inspiring. "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," from 2010, is more conventionally structured than "Cloud Atlas" and a more satisfying read, yet it suffers from some of the same issues. Set in a Japanese harbor town in the late 1700s, Mitchell's novel evokes, in detail, the clash between societies and cultures, while channeling a wide range of voices, from the Dutch clerk of the title to an Irish criminal to a Japanese midwife. Again, it's impressive, but not particularly insightful or engaging, and I find it hard to view as a masterpiece or as "fiction's future." "I didn't set out to write a historical novel just for the heck of it--you'd have to be mad."-D.M.

DevilStateDan Aug 30, 2015

This is a great read & written with beautiful language & pace.
The plot is very interesting & deals with how humans cope (or not) with periods of transition & change.
The clash of cultures is treated intelligently & the characters are beautifully flawed & realistically portrayed.
After two very positive experiences with David Mitchell's writing, I'll be working my way through all of his other books with eagerness!

mvkramer Aug 19, 2015

Mitchell creates characters so real and compelling that I loved my time with them, even if it was just one chapter, and had to find out what happened to them in the end. A strange, genre-bending book, but great for fans of historical fiction.

Apr 07, 2015

A slow start but it turns into an excellent insight into a time when Empire was everything and all other cultures frowned upon. It also shows what happens to people on the other side of the world without any real guidance but themselves. How this effects individuals personally is what makes up the book. Each has their story.

Nov 24, 2014

wow. this book is pretty marvelous. i picked it up because i loved Mitchell's Cloud Atlas so much, but i was skeptical because i have no interest in the Dutch East Indies Trading Company or samurai-era Japan or the beginning of the 19th century. but it is a very absorbing book. well written, informative, interesting, and bittersweet. pretty much everything you'd want in a book!

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5redpandas Oct 11, 2012

5redpandas thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Aug 05, 2012

spacecat thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


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Aug 05, 2012

Frightening or Intense Scenes: Detailed descriptions of crude surgeries, midwifery, childbirth, poisonings, ritual suicide and infanticide.


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