Friday, November 12, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

by David Mitchell

This may end up being my favorite novel of 2010. I've been a David Mitchell fan since I read "Cloud Atlas," and always find both his ideas and his language exquisite, but I'd forgotten just how fun his novels could be. Jacob de Zoet is an early 19th-century Dutchman, a young accountant who is sent to help clean up the corruption at the Dutch trading post of Dejima, in Nagasaki Harbor, Japan. He's a good man, but obviously in over his head. The tiny, man-made island is a virtual prison for the Dutchmen, who are almost never allowed over the bridge and onto the mainland. De Zoet's cohorts cast a wary on him -- many of them were rounded up, against their will, to join the ship's crew, and are doing what they can to earn a little money on the side in Dejima.

Orito Aibagawa, a midwife, is one of the few Japanese women allowed onto Dejima, so that she may study Western medicine with the mysterious Dr. Marinus. She catches Jacob's eye, and he soon finds himself searching for ways to spend a few scraps of time with her.

The second part of the book follows Orito into a dark adventure on the mainland, and I won't say more about the plot. Fascinating setting, memorable characters and a complex, but exciting, story. Loved it.

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