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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

January 1, 2011

  The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell is a challenge to describe, but rewarding to the adventurous reader of historical fiction. It covers an unusual time and place; the end of the 18th century on the coast of Japan, on an isolated Dutch trading post. The author’s website has more information. A historical map would have been useful, but the Dutch trading post/island of Dejima and parts of Nagasaki and surrounding areas are vividly described, as are a couple of ships that visit the harbor. Japan is still in an isolationist phase, but doesn’t know that the Dutch empire is facing difficulties. Corruption is rife, and young clerk Jacob de Zoet arrives for a five year term, hoping to make enough money to marry his Dutch fiancee Anna. Instead, he is intrigued by a young midwife, Orito Aibagawa, and fascinated by his fellow islanders and the Japanese interpreters he meets.  Evil lords, valiant deeds, desperate struggles and battles enliven the difficult first year of Jacob’s tenure.

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