Friday, June 1, 2012

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

This is an historical novel set during the Edo-era of Japan.  It begins in the year 1799.  Jacob De Zoet is a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company.

This book alternated between very interesting and so tediously boring I wanted to scream.  The atmosphere of the era was, no doubt, extremely formal.  The island of Dejima was a man-made creation which allowed the Dutch to live and work there and not on actual Japanese soil.  Only specific Japanese officials were allowed to interact with the Dutch merchants of Dejima.  Japan for the Japanese was a very formal and restrictive place.  People could not freely travel around the country but had to carry papers of identification and have formalized reasons for their travel into different territories.  Leaving Japan was an act punishable by death for the Japanese people.  Only the people who worked as translators could learn the Dutch language.  The Dutch were not permitted to be taught Japanese.

Jacob De Zoet is a young man of promise who can read and write in Dutch and English.  He is a man of principle and honor who is assigned to work in a place where everyone is on the take.  Each person involved in a shipment is skimming some of the shipment for themselves so they may sell it and profit from it when they reach their destination.  Jacob must learn how to exist in this climate.

I haven't been able to put my finger on the specific reason that this book was so awful to get through. When I finally got to 49%, I told myself I had to keep going just to find out what happens to Jacob De Zoet.  The end of the book seemed as though a different writer had written it. One thread of the story ended and then the author rushed through the rest and wound everything up as though he suddenly had a deadline to meet. It was very odd and disorienting and rather unsatisfying as well.

I don't recommend this book unless you are desperate to read everything regarding Japan during this era.  I'm sure there must be other books that can satisfy your curiosity without having to read this one.

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