The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell


Reviewed by Robin Harper, Preservation, NCSU Libraries

Yes, the title sounds pretty boring, but the story is so wonderful, the writing so elegant and understated, and the setting so evocative; it's hard to overstate how much I loved this book. It's set in 18th century Japan, on a tiny island just off the coast. Jacob is the intrepid clerk of a Dutch trading company, with aspirations of making at least a small fortune and returning to the Netherlands to claim his bride. He is surrounded by corrupt company men, duplicitous Japanese officials, and impenetrable customs that continually flummox and humiliate him. But Jacob is a man of integrity, and a quick learner. Mitchell's descriptions of the internal mental workings of Jacob's mind, and those of people close to him is so real, I felt like I was living the experience myself. Wonderful twists and turns in the story that I didn't see coming, and only minimal clues left me holding my breath til the very end.