30 December 2010

Thousands of leaves from a thousand autumns

KYOTO, JAPAN - DECEMBER 04:  Togetsukyo Bridge...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Today the snow is melting in Indianapolis and it reminded me of a book I'd read but not blogged about yet: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. This book takes a compelling historical incident involving the Dutch East India Company's trading post on the island of Deijima, their limited actions with the Japanese, and the appearance of an English ship in the harbor.

The story begins initially with a young Japanese medical student, Orito, a woman of noble birth who has a face scarred from burns. She faces a kidnapping, forcible drugging, and forced service before attaining some redemption later, and on her own terms.

Orito gains the attention of Jacob De Zoet, a young man seeking to make his fortune with the Dutch East Indies Company before returning home to Zeeland.  Jacob is struggling to live morally in this outpost far from the stolid community he comes from, amongst men of uncertain character. As he wrestles with his conscience, he is punished for each decision he makes which is right. In a pivotal scene, his ability to persevere in a course he deems right is essential, though, and serves to keep the Dutch flag flying in Dejima for the years when the Dutch flag was flown nowhere else in the world.

A third character, Uzaemon, offers the last leg of the love triangle. He is a translator and scholar, and moves in waters with deep predators whose cunning he cannot fully see. The outcome, while sad, was predictable.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel

The historical background research for this work must have been extensive, but the author's burden is not onerous to the reader.  Instead the international dynamics between English-Dutch-Japanese percolate along slowly and unobtrusively, until boiling over such that the characters react with precision. I admire Mitchell's ability to use such rich historical narrative without letting it overwhelm the fundamental story.
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Eva ... and I love the name of your blog. Lovely word that works well with your name too. Good for you.

My son's name is Evan and he was determined to use the word Evanescent/ce in some of his creative work, which he in fact did to. It would be a good blog name too, eh?