Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A NovelTitle: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Author: David Mitchell

Pages: 469 (I have an ARC -- Page numbers may be different in the final copy)

Source: Publisher

Rating: 9/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "'Miss Kawasemi?' Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. 'Can you hear me?'"

Summary (From back of book):

In the summer of 1799 a devout young clerk, Jacob de Zoet, disembarks at Dejima in hopes of making his fortune and then winning his wealthy fiancee back in Holland. But after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, midwife to the city's powerful magistrate, the borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure begin to blur, and Jacob finds himself embroiled in a fateful game of duplicity, abduction, and murder. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the foreigners on Dejima, the axis of global power is turning.

My Two Cents:

This was my first David Mitchell novel, so it took me a while to get used to his style. At first, I didn't think I was going to like this book because it just seemed to crawl; there were so many conversations about little things that took up so much time. But, once the ball got rolling, I really enjoyed this book.

Mitchell's writing is great, once you get used to it. He has a gift for moving from the description of a place or thing right into the random thoughts going through a character's mind. He also has the a way with voices; he can move from one character's mind to another and you almost think it's a different writer because the narrative shifts just enough.

Jacob is a solid main character. He's got his flaws, sure, but he's very honest and devout most of the time. He doesn't change a whole lot throughout the novel, at least not until we see some bigger changes at the end, but that setup actually works well for him. Reading Jacob's character wasn't so much a matter of empathizing with him, but it more was a matter of being able to tolerate reading from his point of view, and Mitchell did that.

The most empathetic character in the book, though, and my favorite character, was Orito Aibagawa. We first meet her as she is in training on Dejima to be a doctor, something completely unheard of for a woman in Japan at that time. But, she was given the opportunity because she saved the magistrate's son, and we are able to see what kind of doctor she could become. Her situation takes a major turn for the worse once her father dies, though, and the empathy with the place in which she finds herself trapped is major.

The only real criticism I have of the book is that I would have liked to see a richer portrayal of Japan during the time. Mitchell did give a lot of different portraits, from the ruling system to the religion, but because most of the novel is set on a small, isolated area of Japan, we don't get to see a lot of things that I thought would be really interesting.

If you like historical fiction, interesting narratives, and rich, complicated plots, this book is for you.


Greg Zimmerman said...

Woohoo! I like all those things, and just started the novel yesterday, so I'm heartened to hear you enjoyed it. It's also my first foray into Mitchell. Great review - thanks!

Diane said...

Everyone seems quite pleased with this book; hope to read it soon. Great great great review. thanks

Jenners said...

I was just reading an article about this author. I love how you described his writing. Perhaps I'll try him someday.

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