Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Cloud Atlas was my introduction to David Mitchell and I fell in love with his writing. In fact, I can honestly say that he's one of my favourites, with Cloud Atlas being especially memorable. I wrote a very, very short paragraph about it here. Why is he one of my favourites? Simple - because he can beautifully mix two of my favourite subjects into a fantastic read - fantasy and anything about Japan.

The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the “high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island” that is the Japanese Empire’s single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay; the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company; and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes, and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancĂ©e back in Holland.

But Jacob’s original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and 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 will extend beyond Jacob’s worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, “Who ain’t a gambler in the glorious Orient, with his very life?”
- Official website

I have to say, the novel has one of the most disturbing-but-engaging opener I've ever read. A very graphic description of a complicated labour taking place - complete with illustration, mind you - is surely very attention grabbing, no?

When I first started reading, this novel reads like a historical fiction. A bit slow, with lots of characters that I sometime lost track of who's who. Eventually the story picks up once it reached Book II and evolved into a suspenseful thriller/mystery. There are lots things happening in this story - kidnapping and rescue attempts, surgeries and even a naval battle. It sure made for an interesting read, especially because Mitchell has built such a richly detailed world.

It has now been long-listed for the Booker Prize. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and it's nomination did not come as a surprise.

1 comment:

aalifah said...