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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. David Mitchell once stated that his “intention is to write a bicultural novel, where Japanese perspectives are given an equal weight to Dutch/European perspectives." Do you believe he accomplished this goal in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet? How do you think the perspectives of each culture are portrayed, and are they given equal treatment?

 

2. Jacob de Zoet is an honest, pious man, and has a difficult time coping with the corruption around him on Dejima. Discuss the significance of the psalter, and the impacts of his decision to smuggle it onto the island.

3. One theme of the novel is the power of language — how does it play into both authority and corruption in the interaction between Dutch and Japanese cultures?

 

4. Alternatively, how do instances of common language unite characters in the novel?

 

5. Vorstenbosch tells Jacob that “the orient is all about signals.” Discuss various mixed signals and miscommunications in the novel and their effects.

 

6. What are your expectations of historical fiction? How do you think this book aligns and diverges with projected notions of the genre?

 

7. Speaking of genre, what others genres do you see influencing this novel?  What does the novel change in each part?

 

8. The novel is peopled with dozens of fascinating secondary and tertiary characters.  Who is your favorite and why?

 

9. Discuss the concept of isolationism and how the novel's various settings and landscapes reflect it.

 

10. If you were to land in Dejima in 1799, what would be the first thing you would do?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 27 comments:

Lauren Davis, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Lauren Davis)
I heard David Mitchell interviewed on NPR and found what he said, and how he said it to be fascinating. Intrigued, I went to NPR's website and read a selection from The Thousand Autumn's of Jacob de Zoet. It happened to be the first few pages of the opening scene which, quite frankly, horrified me. I concluded I didn't have the constitution to deal with feudal Japan and Mitchell's often intense storytelling style. But then I happened upon the actual book at the library and picked it up to leaf through. After reading one page from the middle, I was hooked. Mitchell's storytelling abilities are just too good.

The opening scene turned out to be not as horrific as I thought and the rest of the book, while gritty in a few parts, was lyrical, often funny and always compelling. Compared to Mitchell's earlier works, The Thousand Autumns is in a rather conventional storytelling style, until you realize he's written this historical novel entirely in present tense! No wonder it feels like we're there, exploring this exotic, strange, beautiful and foreboding place along side a handful of very engaging characters.

Since reading The Thousand Autumns, I've also read Cloud Atlas, another work of Mitchell's I was worried I wouldn't like and ended up loving. Now I'm entralled with Mitchell's ability to create whole worlds out of his amazing imagination and innovative craft. Prose this good must take a lot of work, but like all real writing, it flows easily and swiftly. I enjoy the ride.
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nicole d, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by nicole d)
A fascinating story written with exquisite historical detail. The story starts simply enough--a Dutchman in the 18th century sets off for a clerkship at a Dutch East India Company trading post in Japan in order to earn his fortune so he can marry the woman he loves. But he doesn't expect to encounter so much corruption that will test his morals, meet a beautiful Japanese midwife, befriend a cantankerous doctor, or parter with a friendly translator to expose an evil monk. This was the sort of novel that kept me surprised and completely engaged from start to finish. The story kept getting better as it went on and I didn't want it to come to an end.
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bevburke, January 2, 2013 (view all comments by bevburke)
This is my best book of 2012. Good story, characters, description, architecture....need I go on? Lovely prose too!!!!
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780812976366
Author:
Mitchell, David
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20110331
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
8 BLACK-and-WHITE ILLUSTRATIONS
Pages:
512
Dimensions:
28.3 x 13 x 5 in 14 lb

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet Used Trade Paper
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Product details 512 pages Random House Trade Paperbacks - English 9780812976366 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is set in Japan in the late 1700s and deals with trade relations between the Japanese and the Dutch. Mitchell begins by methodically detailing how outwardly different in custom and costume the two cultures are, which only serves to make the personal similarities between characters on each side of the cultural divide that much more compelling. This wouldn't have worked if the author had been only acquainted with the cultures in passing, but he's obviously well versed in Japanese and Dutch history, providing thousands of minor points that coalesce into breathtaking panoramas of Nagasaki and Dejima. It's beautiful writing.

"Review" by , "Despite the audacious scope, the focus remains intimate....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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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....It is intelligent and utterly readable at the same time. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "By any standards, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a formidable marvel."
"Review" by , "A page-turner...Mitchell's masterpiece; and also, I am convinced, a masterpiece of our time."
"Review" by , "An achingly romantic story of forbidden love...[David] 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."
"Review" by , "The novelist who's shown us fiction's future has written a classic tale...an epic of sacrificial love, clashing civilizations and enemies who won't rest until whole family lines have been snuffed out."
"Review" by , "[Mitchell's] most emotionally engaging novel yet."
"Synopsis" by , From the author of Cloud Atlas, now a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant, and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer.

The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, and costly courtesans comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout 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 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 of which will extend beyond Jacob’s worst imaginings.

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