Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Booklist (starred review)
"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." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"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." Library Journal (starred review)
"By any standards, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a formidable marvel." James Atlas, the New Yorker
"A page-turner...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...[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." Dave Eggers, The New York Times Book Review
"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." Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"[Mitchell's] most emotionally engaging novel yet." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
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.
About the Author
David Mitchell is the acclaimed author of the novels Black Swan Green, which was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Time; Cloud Atlas, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist; Number9Dream, which was short-listed for the Man Booker as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and Ghostwritten, awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best book by a writer under 35 and short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. He lives in Ireland.
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?