The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell
Along with William Boyd, David Mitchell has to be my favourite writer. Just like Boyd, his books are intelligent, fantastic (in the creativity sense) and impressively researched, and this novel is no exception.
Set on the 150m long man-made island of Dejima just off the coast of Nagasaki in Japan at the turn of the 18th Century, the story follows the life of Jacob de Zoet, an honest young Dutch Clerk whose faith encourages him to always try to do the right thing. Dejima is the sole trading gateway to the closed world of Japan, and no westerners are allowed to set foot on land. As such the small timber island is home for the next five years and Jacob just wants to serve his time and head back to his fiance in Holland. Inevitably though there are bigger forces at work including corrupt Dutch Officials, honourable Japanese Translators, scarred Midwives, twisted Abbotts, not to mention The English Navy.. all of whom conspire to make life difficult for Jacob de Zoet…
In fact the story is full of Japanese, Dutch and English characters who are so well written that at times I felt I’d been watching a film, so strong were the images in my mind. Mitchell writes so convincingly, it’s like he was there somehow…. I saw him on BBC Breakfast the other week and he described how it took him a whole day to research and write a short passage about the simple act of shaving and that kind of commitment shines throughout the whole novel.
So if you like historical yarns, full of detail, love, honour, double crossing and Japanese culture, with enough twists and turns to keep you reading to the end, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.