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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