Imagine a nation banishing the outside world for two centuries, forbidding its subjects to leave its shores on pain of death, and harbouring a deep mistrust of European ideas.
Set in Japan in 1799, a young Dutch clerk, Jacob de Zoet, is about to embark on a strange adventure of duplicity, love, and murder - and all the while the axis of global power is turning.
©2010 David Mitchell (P)2010 WF Howes Ltd
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I like historical novels, but I also like reading history books (non fiction). I believe I have quite a good knowledge about history in general and some historical events in particular. It is difficult to write good historical novels (but it is also difficult to write any fiction of quality). There is a specific area of history which is called the history of ideas, where historians study what people (learned people or ordinary people) actually thought and believed in during defined eras of time. As you all well know, we take on new ideas and discard old ideas on a consistent basis, so our generation has a different set of frames of mind than even our parents had. Then think some five or ten generations back - they would beleive in things we are not even close to beleiving. I have one specific demand on writers of historical fiction: I want them to let their protagonists live in the frame of mind of their time. Very few writers of historical fiction do that. Instead they let their protagonists think like 21st century people. I think they fail in that aspect simply because they have not researched the ideas of the time in which they set their story. Precisely this error is made by this author. He sets the story in Japan some 200 years ago, with Japanese and Dutch people in his story. It is evident he has neither studied calvinistic thought (which would be the frame of mind for the Dutch at the time), nor has he read up on Shintu thoughts (which would prevail in the thinking of the Japanese at the time). Instead the Dutch think like hash-smoking youths in today's Amsterdam and the Japanese think like Toyota just-in-time manufacturing engineers. This makes the whole thing quite comical, but that is unintentional on the part of the author. I would not recommend this book for any other aspect either; it is not even interesting or suspenseful.
Masterfully written, beautiful, adventurous, intelligent! I highly recommend it for those who love intelligent historic fiction. This was a pleasure to listen to.
"The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet"
What a marvellous tale - beautifully written and beautifully read. I was 'transported' in my mind to historical Japan and absolutely hooked throughout, waiting to see whether or not Jacob De Zoet would eventually succeed against all the odds being united with the Japanese lady he fell for early in the story. I have been listening to Audible books for well over a year and this is the best book yet - as a literary work and as compulsive listening - by far. I was so pleased to spend about 5 hours driving by myself so I could listen to the third and final part uninterrupted! Oh for more by this amazing author.
"1000 Autumns is a 1001 Delights"
My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this audio novel. At first sight it seems quite a strange story yet it is absorbing and intriguing from the very start and one is quickly transformed. The writing is superb. Wonderful characters in cultural juxtaposition are vividly and lovingly brought to life by the narrators. We have played bits over again for the pure enjoyment and not because we fell asleep while listening! This is our book of the year.
"Oscars all round!"
One of the most brilliant books I have read and the two readers of this recording are wonderful. I am stunned it wasn't short listed for the Booker.
"Fantastic story fantastically read!"
It is a love story, yes, but much more than that too. I was really transported back to Japan at that time - the perilous life led by the colonists so far away from home in a culture that was totally alien. How this ill-assorted bunch coped with the isolation in their different ways,from visiting whores to botany; the corruption - both Dutch and Japanese; the power of the shadowy Shogun - it is all intriguing and gave me a true flavour of what life was like at that time. The plot twists and turns and is both funny and sad at times, but it carries you along and never drags. What added an extra dimension to an already captivating tale though, was how excellently it is read - both narrators made a cracking good job of coping with the Japanese accents. Added to this Jonathan Aris showed such versatility, Irish, West Country, London, German... and of course Dutch accents - all tackled successfully - it is rare to hear such skill. The reading made the book really shine in my opinion. In short, if you are considering reading this book hesitate no longer - it is excellent!
I adored this book and almost cried when it was finished, so immersed in the story had I become. Thank you, David Mitchell, and also the two excellent narrators, for a spellbinding experience.
"... and for the mind, stories."
'a thousand autumns' is, as many reviewers have said before me, a mature work which fulfils mitchell's earlier promise. part love story, part horror story; part imperial mea culpa, part hymn to duty, faith, and honour, this book brings cloistered japan, the mercantile dutch, their slaves, the free and pressed men of the british navy - all, to perfumed, formal, chaotic, ailing, lovely, cruel, fair, life; and to death also, death, life's indivisible, irrespective of black magic and the beckoning promise of science. the language is delightful and - imperceptibly, at first, over an interspersed series of descriptive passages, gradually transmutes into verse and back out again for the action. beautifully and intelligently read by jonathan aris and paula wilcox, this audiobook is a total pleasure and comes highly recommended by me. may david mitchell live a long long life!
Oh such a good tale, everytime I thought I knew where the story was going it turned in another direction. Dazzling writing and well researched. Cannot think of a negetive comment! Wanted straight away to listen to another David Mitchell, but Audible, why do you only have them in abridged format? Hope you remedy this asap.
"What a fantastic listen!"
There is nothing I didn't enjoy about this. The story itself I found gripping and entertaining. It had the style and pace I enjoy. David Mitchell's narration only made it better. His reading style lent a lot to the overall experience. I will actively seek out other stories narrated by him - Paula Wilcox, though covering a smaller part, was also very good. The very start of the book is a somewhat direct view of a complicated birth - somehow at odds with almost everything that comes next. And there is a lot that follows...
My first listen here on Audible, and I couldn't have picked a more rewarding experience.
Although I did enjoy his "Cloud Atlas" a lot, David Mitchell's "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" is an incomparable novel. The language is beautiful, and there are several instances where I had to stop just to relish the wonderful imagery and flow of words.
Both Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox are tremendously gifted narrators, although it is the former who narrates the lion's share of Mitchell's narrative. Their renditions are a joy to listen to, and Mitchell's knack for characterization is matched in Aris' ability to bring the characters to life.
It's a joy to see a contemporary writer most certainly not only improving but showcasing such understanding of narrative and language that his work becomes transcendental in how it transports and rewards. It helps that I'm immensely interested in Japanese culture and nautical narratives as well, and indeed there's a sense of belonging here that works such as "Moby-Dick" evoke. No wonder the Ewing narrative in "Cloud Atlas" was amongst my favorites.
The emotional crescendo of the narrative, and the moment it reaches its peak and release, gushes with profundity of life. Bittersweet, yes, but just as the best poetry, it makes one to look around and cherish what one has. What a gift to be alive.
"The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet"
I found this really hard to get into and left off after a few chapters, BUT I returned some weeks later and really listened. The story gathers momentum and purpose as you listen on.
The social mores and customs of the early 19th century Japan and Dutch settlers is fascinating BUT OOOOH when the story unfolds of kidnapped women, babies born to monks - I won't go on so as not to spoil the treat. I just couldn't stop listening in the end.
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