Wowee, what a fan-fucking-tastic read! And yes, I had to insert the expletive because it was that darn tootin’ good. This was my first David Mitchell novel, but I am now very excited to discover the rest of his works.
In 1799, Jacob de Zoet disembarks on the tiny island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s remotest trading post in a Japan otherwise closed to the outside world. A junior clerk, his task is to uncover evidence of the previous Chief Resident’s corruption.
Cold-shouldered by his compatriots, Jacob earns the trust of a local interpreter and, more dangerously, becomes intrigued by a rare woman—a midwife permitted to study on Dejima under the company physician. He cannot foresee how disastrously each will be betrayed by someone they trust, nor how intertwined and far-reaching the consequences.
Duplicity and integrity, love and lust, guilt and faith, cold murder and strange immortality stalk the stage in this enthralling novel, which brings to vivid life the ordinary—and extraordinary—people caught up in a tectonic shift between East and West.
The actual story line of the book is very interesting and like nothing I have ever read before, but it is really Mitchell’s writing that pulled me in and led to many a late nights trying to tear myself away from the words on the pages. There were specific moments that reminded me a lot of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The witty banter, the numerous story lines intertwining, the vivid physical descriptions of places and people. I can’t say that the whole book had this similarity but the first few chapters that take place on Dejima really had the same feel to me. And much like Catch-22 there were parts of this book that made me chuckle out loud. However, there were also gasps and furrowing of brows as well. This is definitely a very rewarding read in the sense that there is complexity and revelation throughout the narrative that makes you want to dig deeper and keep following the story to the end.
It is also a challenging read. There are Dutch and Japanese names to keep straight, there is a sweeping timeline to follow, the language can be rich, subtle, and confusing, there is symbolism and imagery I sometimes had a hard time deciphering, and overall there is a sense of suspense and mystery that threads its way through from beginning to end. I found that this was a book best left for quiet solitary moments in which I did not have to share my attention with anything else, but that challenge was also its greatest reward. It felt like the book trusted the reader to be able to catch up and follow along without adding simplicity or anything other than minimal explanation. Mitchell is most certainly an author worth praising, and as I mentioned above, I will definitely be checking out his other works and will write about them on here.
This is definitely one of the best books I have read in 2012, if not for the past few years. I highly recommend!
Just days after I finished reading this book I came across this quote by Colin Firth. I found it to be most applicable.
When I’m really into a novel, I’m seeing the world differently during that time – not just for the hour or so in the day when I get to read. I’m actually walking around in a haze, spellbound by the book and looking at everything through a different prism.