Be Swept Up in David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

8 Jun

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
The year is 1799, and the setting is Japan. Specifically, the island of Dejima, a toehold of trade in a country that largely practiced isolationism. The Dutch East Indies Company is allowed to engage in shipping there, and it is where the main character, Jacob de Zoet, is stationed. Working as a bookkeeper, he has been assigned the task of identifying irregularities in the trade ledgers — fraud and smuggling being the order of the day.

David Mitchell brings this historic novel alive with period details and a cast of colorful characters. Actually, perhaps a few too many characters. An intricate story located in such a setting needs a host of characters to explain the backstory, populate the scene with shipmen and traders, the locals, the language interpreters, and the ruling hierarchy in political power. Reading the book in digital form helps the reader keep the characters straight as it is easy to search the text for a name that you know you’ve seen previously but momentarily can’t identify.

Jacob de Zoet, who came to Dejima to earn enough money to impress his Dutch girlfriend’s father and have him agree to the marriage match, finds himself becoming obsessed with a local woman, Orito, who works as a midwife.

De Zoet struggles with his obsession, trying to adjust to living in a totally foreign culture, his morals and heritage, and walking the fine line of performing his job while trying not to alienate his peers.

David Mitchell is a masterful writer that swept me up in the setting and rich relationships of the characters. The book was utterly believable, moving, and succeeded in transporting me far away from pandemic isolation. Which is not to say that there were parts that revulsed me — it was a brutal and difficult age, particularly for women.

This book is available as an eBook from eLibraryNJ and eBCCLS.

David Mitchell’s newest book, Utopia Avenue, is scheduled to be published July 14. It is described as being about the 1967 Psychedelic music scene. What intrigued me was the mention of guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet. Can’t wait to see the connection and read this new one!

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

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