The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

David Mitchell

Book cover

A much more “normal” book than Cloud Atlas, and a better book in my opinion.

The obvious touchstone for this book is Shogun. In fact, for the first section of the book, I often had the feeling, “Why is David Mitchell writing this? Doesn’t he know that Shogun already exists?” The palace intrigue, the uneasy coexistence of Westerners with Japan, the Orientalist romance, etc. etc. It’s not until Part 2 that the real quality of JdZ begins to come across. Where Shogun is ultimately conservative and triumphalist for both Blackthorne and Toranaga, JdZ is complex and ambiguous or worse for both Jacob and Ogawa. Yet JdZ also maintains the page-turner quality of Shogun throughout.

To me, the most interesting issue examined in the book is personal freedom, the ability to choose one’s own path. It comes up in many places, for Jacob, Orito, and Ogawa. The narrative seems to postulate a sort of tragic inverse relationship between success and freedom. There is a key passage relating to this issue at the very end of the book, which is (I believe intentionally) ambiguous. If you read it, I would be interested to discuss it with you.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars