East meets West in David Mitchell's most conventional novel yet
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet:
by David Mitchell
$26.00 List Price
A new book, a new genre—just what you'd expect from David Mitchell. Since 1999, this wunderkind of British fiction has produced a globe-spanning chain of nine semifuturistic narratives (Ghostwritten), a coming-of-age thriller set in contemporary Tokyo (Number9Dream), a Chinese box of nested tales that take us from the nineteenth century to about the twenty-third (Cloud Atlas), and a portrait of the artist as a very young Englishman (Black Swan Green). And now for something completely different—a historical novel. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, with its stately, melancholy title, is not only, for Mitchell, a new form, it is also a new mood: wistful, delicate, even, well, autumnal. The wunderkind—forty-one by now—is ripening, it seems, into a middle period of subtler effects and sustained emotions.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is set in and around the artificial island of Dejima, the tiny trading post in Nagasaki harbor created in the seventeenth century by the insular Tokugawa shogunate. Dejima was virtually Japan's single window on the outside world—certainly, its single link to the West. Only the Dutch were given trading rights (the Chinese had their own post in the same harbor), and traffic between natives and foreigners was highly regulated and formalized. The title character—young, pious, principled, shrewd—arrives in this world of petty intrigue, endemic corruption, ubiquitous surveillance, illegible signs, and cultural paranoia in the summer of 1799 as clerk to Dejima's new chief. A new century is at hand. France is whetting its knives at Holland,