"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: 4 of 5 stars

Judge a book by its cover and you might think that “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” is simply the story of Jacob De Zoet, a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company who arrived in Dejimi, a port off the coast of Japan in 1799. But this book is a thousand times more ambitious than simply the story of an honest clerk. It’s about everybody he meets, and the culture, and the crime, customs, traditions unrequited love, and forbidden practices. De Zoet is not some superhero who marches into all these situations and saves the day. In some cases his influence barely rates a ripple; in others he remains forever unaware.

The story is broken up into sections that sometimes feature a cast of characters within only the slightest connection to De Zoet. Yet, De Zoet never feels far from the action even when separated by time and distance.

****Possible Spoiler***

I clicked on the 4-start rating and immediately felt as though I had clicked one-star too few. This is easily a 5-start book—almost.

While reading I did get caught up in the life of De Zoet; what he did, what he might do, what he should do. The novel is certainly involving on that level. Maybe my disappointments with De Zoet are actually my own. After nearly 20 years living off the coast of Japan he remains unavoidably affected yet essentially unchanged. When he is forced to leave, leaving his son behind, one hopes for a desperate action, even if knowing it would be doomed to failure. No desperate action happens and De Zoet returns “home” where he is celebrated as a wartime hero. The extraordinary life that De Zoet’s has lived seems to have had little effect on him. For better or worse he lives out the remainder of his days as the same humble, honest, hardworking and loyal man that he sought to be from the beginning.

A great novel, a truly great novel, but I think I’ll leave the 4-star rating—at least for now. The book is put away, yet the story continues to play in my head. What was, what could have been—but wait! It’s only fiction. Probably the highest 4-star rating I’ll ever leave.

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