Excerpt: David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Although he's been around for more than ten years now,

(as a published writer that is), and as a celebrated one
since 2004, the year he published Cloud Atlas, i've never
read anything of David Mitchell's.
This situation most likely would not have been changed in the near future, if it weren't for the new vocation i've recently taken upon myself, to read and review new and upcoming novels' excerpts and deliver my verdict upon them. Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a historic novel set in Japan at the turn into the 19th century, where The Dutch East India Company rules large and local and foreign population intermix in vice and corruption, despite a strict prohibition against any contact between locals and 'foreigners' (indeed, dutch clerks are not allowed to learn or speak any japanese, and bringing in bibles or christian artifacts through the local customs is forbidden).

Two excerpts are currently available to read, one from the first chapter, the other from the second

The first excerpt, The House of Kawasemi the concubine, above Nagasaki (subtitled The night night of the fifth month) is taken from Chapter 1 of the book and is set in 18th century Japan where Dutch Dr. Maeno and midwife Orito Aibagawa try to deliver the dead child of Kawasemi, concubine to Uragami Gyokudo, japanese artist.

The delivery is doomed to fail as the child is stillborn, until a moth enters the room and with one flap of its wing - the child is rewarded its life back.

But don't get too attached to the mother and baby as we're swiftly moving on..

The second excerptCaptain Lacy's cabin on the Shenandoah, anchored in Nagasaki harbor (subtitled, Evening of July 20, 1799) finds us on a dutch east indies cargo ship sailing the Nakasaki run on its way to the port of Batavia, now known as Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

On the ship is Jacob de Zoet, a dutiful clerk in charge of 'cleaning the corruption' at his new post, the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, Japan, where "every arrival [...] is a particular death".

Cannily enough, Zoet's first act as 'moral supervisor' is to smuggle his Psalters through local customs.

But he cunningly escapes punishment and we're off to a speed trial where chief elect of the of the trading factory of Dejoma Unico Vorstenbosch sentences the acting-chief of the above-mentioned factory, Daniel Snitker (yes, the titles are endless in the beaurocratic world of the East Indies company) for 'gross dereliction of duty', which basically means romping 'with strumpets in a brothel' whilst the unobserved company warehouses were put to fire by vandals and looters, and we are exposed to the politically and morally corrupt world of the colonial entities invested in the far east.

This goes on, in minute details and a trifle tediousness at times, but it these nuances that make for what the french call 'vraisemblance', without which there could be no 'historic' novel.

VERDICT: BUY (if you're into the whole historic novel scene)

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