Friday, November 19, 2010
BookLook for Thanksgiving
“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”
Historical fiction is a time machine sitting on a magical flying carpet. Off to explore places and epochs with an author like David Mitchell as our genie. His magical powers carry us where we will never go, to visit a place we will never forget.
In 1799 the Empire of Japan has completely isolated itself from the evil Christian world of the west except for the Dutch East Indies Company. A young clerk with the company, Jacob De Zoet, sails into Nagasaki Harbor planning to make his fortune and return to his fiancé in Holland. But Jacob’s integrity and Christianity place him on another tragic path. After refusing to sign his name falsely to allow his superior to steal from the company as is commonly done, Jacob is left behind without status or protection. He faces years of servitude and falls in love with a Japanese woman studying medicine with the Dutch doctor. There is hopelessness and courage in the lives of all who are also trapped by the mandates of society and their individual decisions.
Mitchell has been compared to Tolstoy and I would add Michener. His complex characters are magnificent in their bravery and foolishness. Their stage is a foreign landscape described so vividly we hear the crunch of leaves as they pass and smell the malodorous vapors rising up from a decaying civilization. Sometimes the author creates an atmosphere filled with so much tension we find ourselves holding our breath waiting for their rescue or redemption.
“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” is an epic novel of epic length. There are some graphic descriptions which though not offensive they are not for the faint of heart. It is available as a 19 hour recorded book and narrated by a man and a woman whose dual performance enhances the unforgettable experience. This is a great historical fiction novel however you choose to read or listen to it.