The 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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