The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

You may have to make room for one more on your list of favorite authors. David Mitchell is a spellbinding writer. He manages a large cast of double-dealing characters, obscure Nippo-Dutch historical facts, entwined stories, brilliant plot twisting strokes and still leaves himself room to show off. There will be two or three spots where a reader will think “Wow…that’s different.” Neglecting to underline in this book (big mistake), all I can recall at the moment is the Captain’s earthly thoughts during the Chaplin’s numinous reading, but there are several passages where you have to say Mitchell’s writing is something else.

The story takes place on Dejima, an artificial island a few steps off shore of Nagasaki. Dejima is the Shogun’s inventive work-around to ensure that no barbarian (particularly Portuguese Jesuits) step foot on Japan, while keeping trade with the outside world flowing. After the Portuguese get their walking papers, the Dutch set up shop on Dejima. They work under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company (the VOC), the power of which makes Google, Facebook and Halliburton look like pikers. As the VOC unravels, ordinary employee corruption became epic corruption. To drain the swamp, the new Chief Resident of the Dejima Station brings with him an industrious, honest clerk named Jacob de Zoet. De Zoet has signed on for a stint with the VOC in order to make his fortune, thereby allowing him to marry slightly up in society upon his return to his hometown of Domburg.

There are some entertaining characters in the cast…Jacob, of course, the evil abbot and a particular favorite, Dr. Marinus. While vastly differing in content, the pregnant dialogue between Jacob and Dr. Marinus reminds one of that between Lord Varys and Tyrion in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Conleth Hill must play Marinus in the movie, but alas there won’t be one. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was 3-hours long and panned as being too ambitious and rife with yellow-facing. But all of this is beside the point, which is that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is an engrossing read…and always keep David Mitchell on your radar.

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