Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

I can't even attempt to be measured in this review. I LOVED this book. Loved it so much that when I was finished reading I walked around hugging it to my chest, like a toddler with her teddy bear. Loved it so much that I was trembling as I read the final pages. Loved it so much that I will have to buy the hardcover edition so I have a more permanent record.

The novel is the story of Dutchman Jacob de Zoet, a Dutch East Indies clerk at the turn of the 19th century. Jacob travels to the Dutch trading enclave off the coast of Nagasaki, at a time when Japan is still closed to foreigners and deeply protective of its isolation. We know, from the vantage point of the 21st century, that Japan's sealed borders will not last more than another half century, but at the time, the country is struggling to balance the temptation of trade with the fear of change. Jacob is, in a way, a bridge between those two tendencies - an honorable representative of one of the world's most powerful commercial enterprises, and a sympathetic force for transformation, however private and localized those changes may appear to be.

Jacob's story starts off slowly. He has been sent to Japan to clean up the Company's books, or so we are told. But as he finds himself immersed in the politics of both the Company and, gradually, Nagasaki, his story takes on greater menace and import. Ultimately, Jacob finds himself confronted with an evil that is nearly incomprehensible. But his desire to counter that evil is shackled by the limitations of a closed Japan and the multiple competing dangers facing Jacob and his friends.

The story is gripping and, most importantly, tremendously moving and thought-provoking. There are a lot of characters and the story is not for inattentive readers. But those willing to stick around will be amply rewarded. The only other thing I can do from here is to gush, so I'll close by saying that David Mitchell exceeded my expectations and then blew me out of the water with his beautiful writing and humane, complicated characters.

1 comment:

Carole said...

Hi there, the November edition of Books You Loved is now live. Here is the link Books You Loved November Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

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