Asia,  Book Reviews,  FICTION,  History

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell *** (of 4)

High marks for originality.  The year is 1799, though it feels like the period is 150 years earlier than that, and the location is just outside Nagasaki, Japan.  A Dutch trading ship has just deposited its crew and cargo for a five year stint.  Japan remains one of the most impenetrable societies encountered by Western traders who must negotiate strict cultural isolation in a blisteringly hot and humid, remote outpost.  We meet Japanese shoguns and interpreters, regional magistrates and physicians and from the West clerks and ship captains, doctors, deckhands, and a multitude of slaves mostly acquired from Indonesia.  A love affair blossoms between the Dutch clerk, Jacob de Zoet, who appears to be the only honest man in the Pacific and a Japanese midwife, who may just be the only female medical professional in Japan.  Japanese custom forbids their open interaction.  My one irritation is the frequency with with the author begins chapters mid-scene, requiring his readers to tangle with disorientation for many pages, probably as a technique to reinforce the feelings of his subjects.  You’ll have to read the book to learn the outcome of Jacob’s and Orita the midwife’s mutual affections.