The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, by David Mitchell (2010)

I first heard of Mitchell’s best-known book, Cloud Atlas, when I saw it on a list of books that people buy but never read. I had at least heard of most of the other entries, so I looked it up, and the brief description I found online piqued my curiosity. I thought it was brilliant, and went on to read Mitchell’s other novels. Meanwhile, those who gave up partway through Cloud Atlas may be heartened to hear it’s recently been turned into a film, which I’ve not yet seen, although I’ve read more than one review claiming that it’s difficult to follow if you’ve not read the book. At any rate, Cloud Atlas was enough to put Mitchell onto my personal list of authors whose future books will make my to-read list, along with writers like Rawi Hage and Barbara Kingsolver.

Thousand Autumns, set in and around the tiny Dutch trading outpost of Dejima (by imperial edict, Japan’s only link to the outside world for centuries) was a fine novel, but for me it didn’t quite measure up to his earlier work. It’s an interesting historical period to explore, but although Mitchell at one point lived in Japan for a few years the passages told from the perspective of Japanese characters seemed less natural to me than those about the Europeans. A lengthy plot arc involving a strange sect’s mountain enclave felt forced somehow in a way that Mitchell’s earlier novel which centred around a Japanese protagonist, number9dream, did not. Overall, not a “must read”, but still a perfectly decent novel.