Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pretty extraordinary novel. Meticulous about its historical setting -- Japan, 1799 -- but deeply deeply felt, intricately plotted, and in the end quite exciting. The first third is a bit of a slog but at some point there's a tipping point and the pages start to fly by. One thing it does pretty well is to leaven some of its more high-literary conceits with a handful of almost pulpy plotlines involving forbidden love and at least one super-evil villain who -- well, I'd better not say.

I have a lot of thoughts about this book but it is quite late at night so I am not going to write a whole bunch right now. I will say that of course the most impressive thing about this novel is how deeply it burrows into its historical setting, and I love how it embraces the full scale of the impersonal historical forces and massive-if-bygone social institutions at the same time that it captures the real interior experience of the individuals who populate them. The two things -- historical forces and individual actors -- aren't exactly opposed, but what I like here is not just the empathetically written characters but the (forgive me) historicity of the story. Terrific book.

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