Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
By David Mitchell
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 9780812976366, 512pp.)

The Short of It:

Elegantly written, but a bit too slow for me.

The Rest of It:

I’m at a loss for words and cannot describe this book properly so here is the blurb from the publisher:

The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, and costly courtesans comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancée back in Holland. But Jacob’s original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured midwife to the city’s powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken—the consequences of which will extend beyond Jacob’s worst imaginings.

This novel and I did not get along. There were sections that were beautifully written, but in between those were long spans of overly descriptive text that I really did not have the energy to appreciate. As interesting as pieces of this novel were, it’s really the most frustrating love story ever. Jacob is totally infatuated with Orito and as decades pass, they cross paths maybe four times (I lost count)? This would be great if Orito felt the same way about him, but she doesn’t, so the periods in between their meetings are long, painful stretches where Jacob continues to imagine how it could be between the two of them.

My book club discussed it last week and although most of us agreed that the writing is beautiful, many agreed that the pace was questionable. It’s one of those books where nothing happens. Some could argue that lots happened, but really… I would have to disagree with that.  One member pointed out that long periods of isolation would drag out like that. I thought that was an interesting comment and then started to think that the structure of the novel was intentionally laid out that way…but then I thought the opposite. Not sure why.

This is not a book to skim. You have to take your time with it and perhaps I just didn’t have enough time to devote to it, because it’s well-received by many. For now, I will part ways with David Mitchell but in a year or two, I wouldn’t be surprised if I picked up one of his other books (Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green) because the writing was beautiful and some of the characters were quite vividly drawn.

Source: Purchased for my Kindle.

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25 thoughts on “Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet”

  1. Ti, that’s disappointing that you didn’t get along with this book, but it does sound like you appreciated Mitchell’s beautiful writing (so, that’s a plus). I loved Cloud Atlas, but have not read anything else by Mtichell – I started Black Swan Green, but gave up after a few chapters in – not sure if it was my mood or that I just wasn’t clicking with Mitchell. I know I’ll read it at some point. I’m glad you posted about this one, its making me think that I will read it at some point, but I’m not in any hurry to do so. Thanks!

  2. I can’t believe I’ve been gone two weeks, I’ve missed your posts. I have to spend this week catching up. You know, it’s funny, I’ve checked this book out of the library twice and never got around to reading it. I didn’t know why. I think I’ll have to wait until after summer to try and dig into this one. Sorry, it didn’t work for you. I guess I’ll have to lower my expectations.

    1. I don’t know. No one in my group really liked the book except for one person. If you search reviews on the web, most have good things to say. I just didn’t feel like it was all that great. It went on and on and who has time for that these days? I know�I don’t.

      I missed you too. I’ve noticed less comments and less posts from folks overall. Summer must be here!

  3. I have read other comments similar to yours about this book, i.e. beautiful writing but long, meandering passages that are difficult to wade through. Several of Mitchell’s books have been recommended to my by numerous people but this isn’t one of them. Even the summary is a bit much. My favorite line in your review is: “This novel and I did not get along”. Brief, to the point, well said!

    I hope you are enjoying some of the other books you are reading much more!

    1. Yep. I phrased it that way to indicate that it could quite possibly be me not “getting” it. The language was easy to read but so much detail, so many decades… and not much happens. Not really. If�a film director got his/her hands on it, much of it would be chopped (no doubt).

  4. I admit, I was hesitant about this book, and your review had now convinced me it absolutely would not be a book I would like. It just sounds too slow for me, regardless of how beautiful the prose are.

  5. This book was suggested by one of my book club members. I knew I would read it. I knew she would read it. But I wondered about most of the rest of the ladies. These are all bright women but it’s really hard to push them through much less challenging books. Sounds like we’d get to the meeting and have only two of who had actually read this one if we chose it.

    1. All I know is that our group didn’t care for the pace. I’d try one of his other books though.

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  6. THis is a book I kept seeing mentioned and I thought maybe I SHOULD read it butt now I’m convinced it isn’t for me after reading your review. So thanks for that!

    1. It’s difficult to write a negative review so my hope is that it comes across as fair, and honest.

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  7. I read Cloud Atlas, one of Mitchell’s other books, with a book club and we all found it boring, or well, many of us couldn’t really understand what was going on. What I find interesting about this is, I know that publisher’s like to keep an author’s books looking similar but the cover is so similar, I didn’t even know Mitchell had a new book out by looking at that cover!

    1. You know, you’re right. I remember that other cover. Cloud Atlas is being made into a movie and I wanna say Tom Hanks is in it.

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  8. As i mentioned on Twitter, it’s surprising to read your review after all the praises that have been around. I haven’t read it myself although I’m a fan of all three DM novels I’ve read.

    The fact that not much is happening in a book is really no excuse for the readers to feel it in a negative way, don’t you think?

    1. I read books where nothing much happens all the time. I enjoyed The London Train, which falls into that category. This one though, because it spanned so many years, and because we only hear it from Jacob’s point of view, it gets to be a bit tedious.

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  9. It’s been a common gripe that this book is slow. I read Ghostwritten and love it a lot and wondering what David Mitchell I should read next. I suppose I should read more of him as he is as eye candy as Jo Nesbo!

    1. Ah…Nesbo. *Sigh* � � New comment on your post “Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” Author : JoV (IP: , E-mail : URL� � : Whois� : Comment: It’s been a common gripe that this book is slow. I read Ghostwritten and love it a lot and wondering what David Mitchell I should read next. I suppose I should read more of him as he is as eye candy as Jo Nesbo!

  10. I have to tell you that I have heard radically different opinions of this one. I have not yet been so tempted to read it that I have actually picked it up. Too many others catching my attention just now. Maybe later.

  11. Mitchell has talents. I enjoyed Ghostwritten and thought I would like this book, which was short-listed for Booker. I never reviewed it because didn’t finish the book. The disappointment of this novel, which may not bother most readers, is that none of the great issues it raises—the religious differences, cultural and moral conflicts, racial and ethnic divisions, even the sexual roles hinted at—is ever explored in depth. The narrative spins along, regularly providing excitement or cringing horror, often prompting laughter at various humorous events, and at many points it seems ready to go deeply into the moral dilemmas faced by many of the characters, most notably Jacob de Zoet, only to skip on by. I couldn’t bring myself to truly appreciate the sophistication. To make a comparison, this style reminds me of C by Tom McCarthy, which I read earlier the year for Independent Literary Award.

    1. I agree. It was very much like C. A member of my book group suggested that Mitchell chose to focus on the monotony, in order to accurately depict what life was like for Jacob. I didn’t see it that way, although it was an interesting comment.

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