Monday, November 25, 2013
Title: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
By: David Mitchell
This is a beautifully interpreted performance of a romantic, imaginative historical fiction by David Mitchell, an author with a deep interest in Japan. During the Edo period, when the entire country is closed to foreigners, only the small island outpost Dejima permits a few Dutch traders to live and trade with local Japanese officials from nearby Nagasaki. Jacob DeZoet arrives from Holland to audit the Dutch East India Company accounts and uncovers much corruption. His keen intelligence does not always make him a good judge of situations and he lands in trouble despite his usually upright behavior. He is attracted to a studious Japanese woman, Orito Aibagawa, a doctor’s daughter and accomplished midwife. But Japanese subjects are not allowed to leave Japan, and Europeans are only permitted courtesans or “Dejima wives.” This book, enriched with relevant historical detail, becomes a gripping story with horrifying twists. The dialog is witty and ironic, and the characterization of the voices adds even more to the experience. Jonathan Aris skillfully provides each male character with a different voice, also helpful for tracking the many characters on Dejima. Paula Wilcox is a sensitive reader for Orito and other female characters in the nunnery where Orito is taken against her will. And here David Mitchell departs from historical fiction and enters gothic fantasy for a time. It is a rich and rewarding reading.