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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
About the Book:
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.
"Very few people can write novels as ambitious and crowd-pleasing as David Mitchell’s. In what might be his boldest book yet, the author of Cloud Atlas delivers a historical epic about a Dutch accountant’s adventures in feudal Japan."
"The most consistently interesting novelist of his generation goes back to 1790s Japan, when the Dutch East India Company was Tokyo’s only contact point with the Western world."
"Those looking for the summer’s big historical novel, look no further: The two-time Booker Award finalist has delivered the tale of a young clerk with the Dutch East Indies Company who, in 1799, is posted to a man-made island in Nagasaki Harbor. Political intrigue and cross-cultural romance ensue."
"When a Dutch trader falls in love with a Japanese midwife who is also the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor in 19th-century Japan, you can be sure that the emotional and cultural clashes will be significant. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a historical romance novel by David Mitchell, gifted author of Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green. Here, Mitchell melds history and literature into a satisfying blend."
“Mitchell’s rightly been hailed as a virtuoso genius for his genre-bending, fiercely intelligent novels …The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a dense and satisfying historical with literary brawn and stylistic panache. “
"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. . . .This painstakingly researched and original novel is hard to pin to any one genre, for it is a historical novel and cultural study with plenty of intrigue and mystery mixed in. It is intelligent and utterly readable at the same time."
“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. Comparisons to Tolstoy are inevitable, and right on the money.”
“Despite the audacious scope, the focus remains intimate; each fascinating character has the opportunity to share his or her story. 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.”
“Spectacularly accomplished and thrillingly suspenseful…a narrative of panoramic span…With this book, he masterfully extends his reach and deepens his concerns…Prodigiously researched, it resurrects place and period with riveting immediacy. Imagining, with corresponding fullness, not just its characters’ present predicaments but their pasts and futures, it brims with rich, involving and affecting humanity.”
“The books of David Mitchell represent something akin to a Holy Grail for the publishing industry: not only is he a literary novelist who enjoys commercial success, he is an experimental writer whose works appeal equally to prize judges (he has been shortlisted for the Booker ) and the Richard & Judy selectors. His new novel, may not have the nostalgic charm of Black Swan Green, the matryoshka structure of Cloud Atlas or the alternate realities and fantasies in number9dream, but it has a sophistication and depth that leads me to suspect we’ve only glimpsed the author’s potential so far. The novel makes clear that what was exhilarating about Mitchell’s earlier work wasn’t the playful architectures or the dalliances with sci-fi; it was the exhilaration of the language itself…The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is far more subtle than just a tale of culture clashes, forbidden love and unexpected bravery. For a tour de force, it’s surprisingly nimble, emotionally complex and simply unforgettable.”
“A master-piece…It’s this kind of free-flowing descriptiveness, this sheer revelry in language, this fascination with what it can and can’t explain, that underpins an already fascinating story. So credible has Mitchell made this mélange of love story, quest, myth, melodrama and historical fiction that you’ll probably finish it, as I did, and straight away check out what bits were true to the historical record, which facts were bent and which dates massaged. Then you’ll realise that none of this matters, because masterpieces make their own rules, and this book is definitely one of them.”
“Every sentence yields glorious surprises that no one else could think up. In a novel where the challenge of communication is paramount, dialogue dominates, shifting masterfully between bawdy dialects, halting translations and secret inner thoughts…These few hundred words can only hint at the complexity and eloquence of this novel. It will doubtless earn Mitchell his fourth Booker nomination and, if there us any justice, his first win.”
“There is no retreat, here, into the conventions of historical fiction. All Mitchell’s architectural wizardry and verbal intensity are at play – but now subordinated solely into the service of his subject matter…I doubt there is another living English writer who is capable of such traversals of worlds and consciousness…Here, in this recreation of a historical moment, his transmigrations of empathy become fully emotionally satisfying…a marvel – entirely original among contemporary British novels, revealing its author as, surely, the most impressive fictional mind of his generation.”
“The book leaves a reader, as Ghostwritten did, in a space beyond "belief or disbelief", citizen of several worlds but tyrant or serf in none, only convinced, as its voice of truth says, that it is "Better to strive to co-exist, than seek to disprove"…However densely charted and richly sketched, this sumptuous imbroglio never drags. Its author often risks high-level pastiche but writes with such invigorating edge and dash that scarcely a sentence stands idle…More than before, those muscles do the heart’s work.”
“Extraordinarily entertaining and well-realised… His writing just gives intense pleasure."
"How on earth does [Mitchell] do it? He can write as thrillingly about large-scale events as he can about the tiny details of the private world. Such fluent and masterful command of both domains seems the stuff of a true artist’s gifts, not the laborious work of craft and toil. Not the least astonishing facet of Mitchell’s art is the supple effortlessness he brings to creating worlds entire: worlds so credible and fully formed that one is compelled to allow to pass through one’s mind the absurd thought he was, perhaps, an inhabitant of Japan in 1799. What Adam Thirlwell has provocatively said about Tolstoy as a miniaturist applies equally to Mitchell…This novel is a thriller with a glittering seam of a love story running through it (or is it the other way round?). . . it is a sumptuous historical novel on the collision of cultures . . . The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is vertiginously ambitious – and brilliant.”
“This is probably Mitchell’s most accessible book. It runs to almost 500 pages, yet almost every sentence shimmers with precise, opaque and brilliantly realised writing. . . An historical saga on a deliberately grand scale, it never loses its quiet intimacy and is a brilliantly realised account of two worlds.”
“Mitchell has built a reputation as just about the most audacious, thrilling and, above all, entertaining young British novelist there is. He’s that genuine rarity, a writer of startling ambition whose work is challenging and unconventional, yet whose storytelling gifts keep you turning the page…. [The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet] may just be Mitchell’s most ambitious book yet. . . . [he is] the magician of modern fiction.”