EPS Review #221 - The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell, Hodder & Stoughton 2010, 469pp.

Our book club really liked Cloud Atlas, maybe because it felt like reading Science Fiction only with good writing. The Thousand Autumns also plays with genre and tone, being partly historical novel, part fantasy, with overtones of Patrick O'Brian (but gloomier) and Shogun (ugh).

I was surprised and pleased to find myself reading a novel about Dejima, the early Dutch trading post isolated on a man-made island in Nagasaki (nowadays long consumed by the city). Jacob de Zoet is based on Hendrik Doeff, who was there from around 1800-1817. Everybody's favorite character in the novel, Dr Marinus, made me think of von Siebold, but the dates are wrong. Better think of him as Dr Maturin then, only earthier. Marinus cuts a sailor for a stone -- a scene cut right out of the Quicksilver series? -- but blowing smoke up Jacob's ass and out his mouth is, uh, novel. And he does it in front of the Japanese midwife (Orito) that Jacob fancies, as well.

Meanwhile the Dutch East India Company is falling apart, and the British make a warlike appearance. I did not know that, for a while, Dejima was the only place on earth where the Dutch flag still flew.

There is a fine evil character in the shape of Abbot Enomoto, but alas he proves to be supernatural. I disliked this whole excursion into gothic fantasy around him and Orito. But Mitchell does write a rousing conclusion to everything. And I felt sad at the end, although partly through the cheap trick of dialling the calendar forward 15 years in a few pages. Even if not all the writing works perfectly, it is still original and fun.

For the book club dinner, Roger served Dutch fare on VOC china.