About a month ago, I posted the list of Literary Hub’s choices as the best novels of the 2010s and I was surprised that I had not read a single one of them. Well, I’ve made a start on the list and just finished The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Mitchell is best known as the author of Cloud Atlas.
Jacob de Zoet is an historical novel set in the Nagasaki enclave of Dejima around 1800. Dejima was the furthest outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company and, for a long time, was the only contact point between the extraordinarily reclusive Empire of Japan and the rest of the world. De Zoet arrives as a junior clerk for the Company and is soon thrust into the corrupt world of the Dutch traders and the dangerously isolationist attitudes of the Japanese they deal with. He also falls in love with an educated Japanese woman and in many ways it is her story that drives the narrative.
This is a hefty tome: 500 pages of dense prose that took me some time to get through. Mitchell is a master at feeding immense amounts of both historically interesting information and brilliant descriptive observation into the storyline, and I was certainly never bored. There are wonderful set pieces, a keen ear for dialogue, and even the hint of melodrama.
It gets a full recommendation from me.