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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#1  Postby Fran » 01 Nov 2012, 10:38

After being entranced by Cloud Atlas and then enraptured by the totally different Black Swan Green I did wonder what David Mitchell could deliver for me with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and with hand on heart I can say he has delivered in spades.
The Thousand Autumns takes the reader on a roller coaster ride to the Orient, specifically to Nagasaki, Japan in 1799 - the Empire of the Shogun, a nation introverted, secretive, suspicious & tied rigidly to ancient customs, protocols and observances and violently hostile to the vaguest semblence of outside influence. The book opens with a quite terrifying description of a difficult birth and the intervention of a young midwife credited with saving the life of mother and child .... it really had me wondering if I had inadvertently strayed into some obscure obstetrics textbook! But as rapid as the newborn's first breath I was on a Dutch trading ship engrossed in the machinations of 1790's traders & the dodgy ethics of self interest and pragmatism. A few chapters in and I was still wondering what that first chapter was doing there but Mitchell's characters cross and collide with seamless brilliance. Vying for terror with the birth description is later in the book an operation to remove a stone from the bladder of an unfortunate, absolutely horrifying and gutwrenching.
I don't know much about Japan and even less about 1790's Japan but this book is both enlightening and entertaining ... some of the parts involving the language difficulties and the subtleties of insult and complement are very funny, especially as the Japanese, obsessively resistent to outside influence, do not want their language understood by foreigners and are rigid in enforcing control on interpreters. Mixed in with all this is a secret religous sect with the most extraordinary and obscene beliefs I have ever encountered and, of course, a love story of sorts.
I can't possibly emulate the beauty of Mitchell's writing style expect to say it is lyrically enthralling and totally beguiling, without doubt he took me heart and soul to Japan.
I loved this book, as I loved both Cloud Atlas & Black Swan Green and earnestly recommend it to anyone who likes a really engrossing, meaty read with lots to think about and, in my case, much need of Google (wish I'd studied Latin!) :)
The closing sentence of the book is IMO a brilliant summation of the entire book ...
"A well-waxed paper door slides open".
"When all is said and done - there's a lot more said than done."
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#2  Postby DATo » 01 Nov 2012, 17:05

Fran,

I am so totally sold on this book based upon your comments as well as my personal experience to date with Mitchell's writing, that before even responding to your review I have requested the book from my library. There appear to be no "holds" on it so I expect to receive it within a few days. I will be bumping all other books aside when it arrives to read this book next. I will return to this thread after I've read it with my thoughts.

Thanks so much for the review !!!
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#3  Postby Fran » 01 Nov 2012, 18:06

DATo wrote:Fran,

I am so totally sold on this book based upon your comments as well as my personal experience to date with Mitchell's writing, that before even responding to your review I have requested the book from my library. There appear to be no "holds" on it so I expect to receive it within a few days. I will be bumping all other books aside when it arrives to read this book next. I will return to this thread after I've read it with my thoughts.

Thanks so much for the review !!!


I'll be holding my breath DATo ... hope it delivers for you as it did for me. :)
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#4  Postby DATo » 04 Nov 2012, 08:10

Fran wrote:
DATo wrote:Fran,

I am so totally sold on this book based upon your comments as well as my personal experience to date with Mitchell's writing, that before even responding to your review I have requested the book from my library. There appear to be no "holds" on it so I expect to receive it within a few days. I will be bumping all other books aside when it arrives to read this book next. I will return to this thread after I've read it with my thoughts.

Thanks so much for the review !!!


I'll be holding my breath DATo ... hope it delivers for you as it did for me. :)


I'm two chapters in and loving it !!! Your recommendations are ALWAYS right on the mark.
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#5  Postby Gannon » 11 Nov 2012, 20:47

What a beautifully written book. As DATo says somewhere, Mitchell's prose is poetic and a joy to read. You can open the book at virtually any page and admire his amazing metaphoric passages and command of the english language. Once again Mitchell shows us his love of the historical novel. He is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

This is a book that begs to be read at least a second time. I know that I picked up on a lot I missed reading "Cloud Atlas" the second time, and I will be reading this again for sure. I am a massive fan of Patrick O'brian and was very impressed with the third part of the book where the English frigate "Phoebus" enters the story. Mitchell obviously knows his stuff and I am sure O'brian would be impressed as well.

Mitchell changes pace many times throughout the novel and I was shocked upon learning of the horror story that is the Shiranui Shrine. When Miss Aibagawa's Father dies, she is given to this shrine. I don't want to go into the whole shrine story and spoil it for readers, but it is a big twist in the story and is quite disturbing.

The novel is essentially a love story between two people who could not come from more different cultures. Japan is a civilisation that has "closed it's doors" on the western world and are stagnant, not moving forward politically or technologically with the European empires. Christianity is outlawed on pain of death. Without a navy of their own they rely on the Dutch for trade. The Dutch are a civilisation in decline, and the great naval power of Britain (Britania rules the waves) has slowly but surely erroded away the once powerful empire. Overcoming these differences seems, for our protagonist, an impossiblity.

Mitchell once again touches on religion versus science, this seems to be a constant in his books(even though I have only read three so far).

I know that I have only absorbed about 75% of the novel and will have to read it again. This however will be no chore, quite the opposite, I look forward to reading it again. For lovers of beautiful writing, Mitchell seems to be better than everyone out there at the moment. :D
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#6  Postby DATo » 12 Nov 2012, 04:33

Gannon,

Very good post! I find myself agreeing with you on every point including the necessity of having to read this book again to both look for any points I've missed as well as to savor its beauty a second time.

There is much going on right now in both my home and professional life which has kept me from devoting the amount of time I would have liked to with regard to this book ... yes, I am STILL reading it. I think I will finish it today. I am well into the chapter introducing the Phoebus.

I have used the word "genius" with regard to Mitchell's writing in another post and I find that this summation is only reinforced by this book. I love the little "winks" he gives us from time to time too - like the mention of 'cloud atlas' within the prose of this novel at one point, and the humor with regard to the ending of the billiard game between De Zote and Dr. Marinus. I confess I saw that ending coming but it did not detract from my enjoyment of it. Loved the way Mitchell divulges the outcome of the game at the beginning of another chapter too!

Did you notice any similarities between this book and Cloud Atlas?

1) Orito's plight mirrors Somni-451
2) Timothy Cavendish and Uzaemon are drugged
3) Both Somni-451 and Uzaemon are betrayed
4) Dream sequences - De Zote and Zachary
5) I am speculating at this point because I have not finished the book but I am thinking - the slave, Weh, and what Mr. Meeks accomplishes at the pub.

I have a feeling that there are a lot more and I hope to catch them on my second reading of this book which will begin immediately when I've finished it. I've already extended my library time with this book by two weeks. Hopefully it will not take me as long to read it the second time around.

Fran was exactly right about this book. Also, the beauty of Mitchell's writing rivals the story itself. It is such a JOY to read such beautifully developed prose!

I will report back when I have completed the book.
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#7  Postby Fran » 12 Nov 2012, 06:35

@Gannon/DATo
I am so delighted you both share my enthusaism for this book & for the author.
Reading a review of his work in The Guardian (how pretentious that sounds :lol:) I came across this quote from A S Byatt which I felt I should share with you both .... "His writing just gives intense pleasure." Could you possibly pay a greater complement to a storyteller and author?
Really must get my mits on the rest of his works ... perhaps my Xmas treat to myself (I have been rather good this year after all :lol: )
I think we will have to nominate Mitchell as "The Forum Find of the Year" ... do I have a seconder? :lol:
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#8  Postby Gannon » 12 Nov 2012, 06:48

Hi DATo. I must admit that you have picked up much more than me on your first read. Your points of similarity with "Cloud Atlas" seem so obvious when they are listed in front of me. Kudos, some very nice catches there. You may be interested to know I am re-reading his debut novel "Ghostwritten". I have only read the first two chapters again but I almost get the impression that it is a "dry run" for "Cloud Atlas". It is so refreshing to find an author of this modern age who really is worthy of all the awards and nominations his novels receive. :D

@Fran

I second that. :D
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#9  Postby DATo » 12 Nov 2012, 20:44

Gannon wrote:
@Fran

I second that. :D


And I will third that !!! [:-)

Just finished Thousand Autumns and I am still in the process of emotionally coming down from the last few pages. In those final pages I felt as though I walked beside Jacob, once again in the land of his birth, privileged to share a knowledge that would remain unspoken to those around him, a knowledge of experiences they could never be made to comprehend. Mitchell, beside being gifted in so many other ways, is capable of instilling feelings in the reader which defy prosaic description. He sometimes paints his meaning in the form of shadowy, abstract sensations such as what I describe above. The end of Jacob's story reminded me of looking upon an ancient forest of trees in winter, starkly bare, devoid of the lush leaves and greenery of summer, and yet standing dignified - a living testament to the history of the ages it has witnessed.

I am haunted by the knowledge that Jacob will never know why Captain Penhaligon did not fire the carronades. I want to shout out to him Tristram's name. I ache for him as he watches his son grow smaller in the distance as the ship pulls out of Nagasaki bay knowing he will never see him again, and I am reminded of the feelings I experienced over Magistrate Shiroyama's last moments with his son too. I found it curiously interesting that in both cases the sons (Shiroyama's son & Jacob's future son) were not particularly interested in the keepsakes their fathers offered them. The keepsakes were the symbols of their father's lives and their family ancestry, but the boys were each too young to understand, and in this too I found a heartbreaking pathos. Is this Mitchell's way of indicating how we blithely dismiss the efforts, sacrifices and history of our own forebears?

Throughout the novel games were played in which Mitchell described every move of the card games and the game of 'Go' between the conversation of the players. I've wondered if he was suggesting that life itself is a game and that all our interactions with others are simply the implementation of strategies to achieve our desired goals; or, that perhaps in the final summation our lives are as insignificant as a game despite the seriousness with which we view it, and live it.

The very last scene in which Orito comes to him (at last) has been done before many times (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Time Traveler's Wife ect.) and I was a bit disappointed with Mitchell for employing this less-than-original ending but once again Fran nailed it ... the final sentence of the novel made the cliche-like ending sweet and palatable.

"A well-waxed paper door slides open."

Pure poetry !!!
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#10  Postby A24 » 13 Nov 2012, 08:43

Do you recommend reading this one first or Cloud Atlas - or doesn't it matter?
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#11  Postby DATo » 13 Nov 2012, 09:19

A24 wrote:Do you recommend reading this one first or Cloud Atlas - or doesn't it matter?


A24,

Both books are ambitious and require patience and concentration. I recently found a webpage where the site owner specifies 125 characters in Thousand Autumns and that's just because he stopped counting at that point. Cloud Atlas may also tax your patience because the book is comprised of six individual stories which are hard to make sense of at first. It is not until you get to the center of the book that things begin to fall into place. Either book would do as a "first read" of Mitchell's oeuvre (to date). If I had to make a choice I'd say Cloud Atlas first. Mitchell's books require patience but the rewards are worth the wait. Just my opinion. Perhaps Fran and Gannon could offer their opinions as well.

Fran & Gannon,

I've decided to re-read Thousand Autumns again later as I have just found out that Number9Dream, also by Mitchell, is currently available at my local library branch. I will fill you in on what are sure to be its merits later and I am looking forward to hearing Gannon's opinion of Ghostwritten.
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#12  Postby Fran » 13 Nov 2012, 11:14

@DATo
I am annoyed both Ghostwritten & Number9Dream are both on loan at my local library .... I may have to picket if they don't come back soon. :lol:
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#13  Postby Gannon » 13 Nov 2012, 17:40

Hey guys. "Ghostwritten" is another Mitchell gem. I can't believe that I have forgotten so much of it from my first read. I have only re-read the first four chapters but I have the whole day to read today so I hope to finish it. Similar to "Cloud Atlas" in the sense that a portion of the chapter is carried over into the next chapter. For eg, the first chapter is joined to the second by a simple "wrong number" phone call, well not really a wrong number but. I will not go into detail because I don't want to ruin even a tiny bit of it for you :D . Quality of writing is again high and it is hard to believe that this is his debut novel.
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Re: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet by David Mitchell

Post Number:#14  Postby Fran » 13 Nov 2012, 18:21

Gannon wrote:Hey guys. "Ghostwritten" is another Mitchell gem. I can't believe that I have forgotten so much of it from my first read. I have only re-read the first four chapters but I have the whole day to read today so I hope to finish it. Similar to "Cloud Atlas" in the sense that a portion of the chapter is carried over into the next chapter. For eg, the first chapter is joined to the second by a simple "wrong number" phone call, well not really a wrong number but. I will not go into detail because I don't want to ruin even a tiny bit of it for you :D . Quality of writing is again high and it is hard to believe that this is his debut novel.


Sounds like another intriguing read ... can't wait
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Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#15  Postby DATo » 15 Nov 2012, 18:45

OK ... a very quick first impression of Number9Dream.

This book opens in Tokyo, Japan in what appears to be the present day. The main character is a young man who is on a quest to find his father who he has never met. Apparently a female lawyer holds the key to his whereabouts. The youth is sitting in a lobby cafe of the skyscraper building in which the lawyer's office is located and is drumming up the courage to confront her.

The dreams are not what you'd expect, but within the first few pages you very quickly get onboard with what Mitchell is trying to do. There are smatterings of Black Swan Green in this novel as we witness developments through the eyes of a young and very imaginative and impressionable guy. Loads of dry humor in the opening sequences.

Once again Mitchell provides a vastly different type of story with subtle flavorings of past stories. I am already very much into this book and its techniques and I've only just begun reading it.
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