Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Read: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

This is the third David Mitchell book I've read (the other two being 'number9dream' and 'cloud atlas') and it is most definitely my favourite.

Set in 18th century Japan on a man-made island called Dejima in the bay of Nagasaki - the only link between Japan and the West at that time. Jacob de Zoet is an honest and hard working Dutch clerk who arrives in Dejima to earn enough money so that the father of the woman he loves back home will allow their marriage.

Things change for him dramatically as he gets screwed over and caught up with Lord Abbot Enomoto, a powerful man with an evil secret. And he meets a Japanese woman, Orito Aibagawa - who is wonderful - intelligent, a skilled midwife and very much her own person with a sense of humour.

It's full of colourful characters, some vile, some great. It's horrible to read the racism and classism etc of the time but history comes to life so vividly and it's fascinating.

I was aware that Japan was closed off from the world for a period of time but I didn't know anything about Dejima, or that they traded with the Dutch. Shocking gap in knowledge really, I'm half Japanese but I'm unaware of much of Japanese history. This book really brings the era to life and I'm thoroughly inspired to learn more of the real history of Japan. This book actually provides some, at the back is a timeline of the actual historical events of the time.

David Mitchell's writing is so beautiful and there were so many descriptions and pieces of writing I adored:

"Starlings fly in nebulae: like a child in a fairy-tale, Jacob longs to join them."

"If only, Shiroyama dreams, human beings were not masks behind masks behind masks."

 "Daylight is bruised; woods thrash on the prematurely twilit mountains; the black bay is crazed by choppy surf; gobbets of sea-spray spatter Dejima's roofs; timber grunts and sighs."

There's a short chapter near the end that is just feeling and a moment in time, frozen. Just wonderful description with rhythm and I loved it.

Altogether, this book is beautifully written, satisfying storytelling full of vivid description, humour, bittersweet love, suspense, good and evil, and smaller stories inside as character backstories and fairytales are related within the plot.

I actually got almost half way through before clicking with this properly and falling in love as little happens to begin with. David Mitchell takes his time setting the scenes and introducing the characters but it is so worth it.

Anyone else been inspired to learn about the real history after reading a story? It has happened to me before this, with Hilary Mantel!

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