About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#17 - The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell (New York: Random House, 2010).

Summary: "The year is 1799, the place Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the 'high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island' that is the Japanese Empire's single port and sole window onto the world, designed to keep the West at bay; the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company; and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there. To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes, and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiance back in Holland.

"But Jacob's initial intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city's powerful magistrate. The borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure blur until Jacob finds his vision clouded, one rash promise made and then fatefully broken. The consequences will extend beyond Jacob's worst imaginings. As one cynical colleague asks, 'Who ain't a gambler in the glorious Orient, with his very life?'"

Opening Lines:
"'Miss Kawasemi?' Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. 'Can you hear me?'"

My Take:
Interesting if occasionally convoluted novel set in shogun-era Japan at the turn of the 19th century. Took me some time to get into the story -- not unusual, for a near-epic work of historical fiction with a cast of dozens, most with unfamiliar (Dutch, Japanese, and some other) names and roles that don't quite exist 200 years later -- but found it worthwhile once I did. A page-turner it isn't, at least in most places -- personally, I most enjoyed the portions of the story set in the mysterious mountain sect/ shrine which kidnaps Orito, though this is really a secondary plot line -- but it's still rewarding. For more detail, see Michiko Kakutani's review in the New York Times here.

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