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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet: A Review

One of the finest writers of our time is David Mitchell. I’ve just completed his novel, THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET. Random House Publishers, New York, 2010, 479 pages. This is a short review of the book

David Mitchell was born and raised in England, and educated at the University of Kent, where he studied for a degree in English and American Literature followed by an M.A. in Comparative Literature. He lived for a year in Sicily, and then moved to Hiroshima, Japan where he taught English to technical students for eight years, before returning to England. He currently lives in Ireland with his wife, Keiko, and their two children.
His first novel, Ghostwritten (1999), won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for the best work of British literature written by an author under 35, and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His two subsequent novels, Number9Dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004), were both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2003, he was selected by the literary magazine, Granta, as one of the Best Young British Novelists. In 2007, Mitchell was listed among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS JACOB DE ZOET is David Mitchell’s fifth novel. It’s a historical romance set in Shogunate Japan at a time when the country was closed to all but a handful of foreigners, mostly Dutch and Chinese traders confined to the tiny artificial island of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay. The story begins,unexpectedly, with the attempted delivery of a baby in the breech position. A young Japanese midwife, Orito Aibawa, performs the difficult delivery of a living, normal baby. De Zoet falls in love with her, but Japanese mores of the time present a severe obstacle.
We then encounter Unico Vorstenbosch, a new chief sent by the Dutch East India Company to clean up Deshima’s corruption. He is accompanied by Jacob de Zoet, a poor, pious young man eager to earn enough money to return to Holland and marry his sweetheart. What follows is a drama of love,war, theft, deception, betrayal, and the graphic depictions of midwifery and kidney stone removal, plus games of cards, billiards, and go. There is also a daring raid on a mountain abbey where unspeakable practices are undertaken to sustain the life of monks.
The depiction of late 18th and early 19th century Japan is told with great insight by Mitchell. His major characters: de Zoet, Orito, Vorstenbosch, Dr. Marinus, and Captain Penhaligon are clearly drawn and come alive in the narrative.
This book is a historical novel and cultural study filled with intrigue, mystery, and suspense. The dramatic construction, characterizations, and insight into historical conflict make it a must read novel.

One Response to “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet: A Review”

  1. DANIEL GARSHMAN Says:

    THE BOOK SOUNDS FASCINATING. IT ALSO APPEARS TO BE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL, COMBINED WITH A FICTIONAL ACCOUNT OF HISTORY OF THAT PERIOD IN JAPAN. IT SEEMS TO BE WORTHWHILE READING.

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