Imagine yourself in a land far, far away, in a time long passed from memory. Now imagine this: Napoleon Bonaparte is striding across Europe, and the fledgling American republic is edging ever closer toward the democratic vision of Thomas Jefferson. The Dutch East India Company is gasping its last breath. The Dutch mercantile empire, already shadowed by the mighty British Navy, has gone adrift as its homeland succumbs to the little Corsican general. In this fateful time, as the world slips from the 18th century into the 19th, you find yourself in a tiny Dutch trading post stranded on the shores of Nagasaki.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
This is the setting in which David Mitchell grounds the story of Jacob de Zoet, a young Dutch clerk just arrived for his first posting for the Dutch East India Company. Through the magic of Mitchell’s artistry, you stand by de Zoet’s side, breathing the rarified air of Japan in an era when few outsiders ever had that opportunity.
Books and lectures in history can teach me a great deal about this world, but I can only come close to experiencing it through historical novels such as The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. It’s the rarest of historians who can evoke the spirit, the mindset, and the texture of daily life in a long-ago time and place. The very best historical novelists do just that. And that’s why I read historical fiction.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a beautifully written tale of love, courage, and faith in a world dominated by greed and the lust for power. It’s David Mitchell’s fifth novel in an already distinguished literary career, including twice being short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
For further reading
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