The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell

David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
2010, 530 pp

This historical novel is almost entirely set at the Dutch trading post Dejima, Japan’s only small window with a view on the outside world, in the late 18th century. A young Dutchman, Jacob de Zoet, wants to make his fortune there and takes up the job of a clerk. He has to clear up accounts in a place riddled with corruption. While his fellow Dutchmen give him the cold shoulder, he becomes friends with a local interpreter and the Dutch doctor, Marinus, who teaches medicine to a few students. Jacob falls hopelessly in love with midwife Orito Aibagawa. When her father dies, Orito is secluded in a remote temple, where women are kept for dubious purposes. The story takes another turn, when Dejima is threatened by a British warship. In the last part of the book the reader finds a wiser Jacob de Zoet, who has learnt to deal with corruption and betrayal, the hard way. The complex narrative, that is loosely based on facts, is a fascinating tale of 18th century Dutch trading with a completely different civilization.