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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

Writing a Fictional Future: The End of October

15 May


end of october

image from eBCCLS

Pandemic worst case scenario: An individual, infected with a highly transmittable and potentially fatal disease at a densely populated location. Say an airport. Or say a sports event like a football game. Or something worse, because of the international composition of the crowds, who have the potential to carry that illness back when they return to their countries of origin, like the hadjj, in Mecca, where Muslim pilgrims converge to worship in a sort of controlled chaos that brings together some three million humans. That’s exactly what happens in Lawrence Wright’s new thriller, The End of October.


Okay, so if that’s just too much for you to handle, even fictionally, given the state of the world right now, stop reading this review, and don’t even consider reading the book. If you care to be amazed by the prescient nature of the novel written before we had even heard of the city of Wuhan, and to get a crash course in the science underlying concepts that have rewritten life as we know it, get this book.

For the record, a NPR interview with Wright says he began writing the book in 2017, and submitted his final version at the end of 2019.

Lawrence Wright has done his homework and shares a lot of the background as he writes about an epidemiologist, Henry Parsons, who gets caught up in investigating a new influenza-like disease that comes out of nowhere and threatens to wipe out civilization. Henry, for his part, just wants to contain the epic problem and get back to his family.

So you will learn about various types of influenza, the history of vaccinations, some medical breakthroughs. All good stuff. But the chilliest and horror-like similarities to our current crisis pop up in droves: ventilator shortages, the vice president appointed as the point person for the pandemic, economic closures wrecking havoc on the lives of millions of people. Every time I heard the phrase “nobody could have seen this coming” on the news I think of this book and the research that led to it and give credit to Wright for seeing writing on the wall, and connecting the dots. 

Which is not to say that all the parts align precisely and you should keep turning the pages to find out how this all plays out in real life. There are significant differences such as who are the fictional baddies. 

Be prepared to keep turning pages quickly. And remember, and keep telling yourself, this book is fiction.

This title is available on eBCCLS.  You can see all of our great eBook options on our website here.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

Friday Writing Prompt
Research a topic of interest and write about a fictional version of it.  This could be about a pandemic like Wright’s, but it could also be on a topic like Artificial Intelligence and how it will effect our future.  No one says the future has to be bleak though, maybe your vision of the future could be more idealistic, think Star Trek.  Use your research as a jumping off point and then think of the type of characters who you want to feature in your story.  Are they everyday people who are being impacted by what is occurring or are they a scientist or politician instrumental in making decisions that will shape the direction of society?  Does the main conflict come from what is occurring or does this event simply form a backdrop for a romance or mystery?

If you are interested in writing your own personal story about your experience during the pandemic you can learn more about our history project here.

Written by
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference


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