Author: David Mitchell.
Published: 13th May, 2010.
If you didn’t already know, David Mitchell is my favourite author. This is the 4th book I’ve read by him. I think he’s a genius. Now I’m not going to lie, this book wasn’t my cup of tea personally. That being said, the book itself is extremely well written and thought out, hence the high rating.
The novel tells the story of Jacob de Zoet who works under the Dutch East India Trading Company in a port in Japan during the turn of the 19th century. It has a lot to do with trade agreements, shipping and the possibility of war. It’s very much a colonial novel. The novel explores ideas of race, language, hybridity, conflict, identity and political tensions.
In terms of the characters it follows Jacob who is very straight about correct procedures and hence conflicts with the corruption that he finds in the company’s accounts. It then switches to Orito who is imprisoned in a nunnery and tries to escape. There are characters from many different countries like Britain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Japan, etc. so it keeps things interesting.
Obviously from above you can see that Mitchell put an extreme amount of time into research and it really shows. From Japanese culture to 19th century trade agreements, he’s seriously thorough in his understanding of the time. It’s well written, the language is beautiful as always and engaging. It’s the makings of a brilliant novel and in many ways it succeeds.
The reason why I didn’t really like it is because of the subject matter and time period. Firstly, I’m not really into nautical fiction, trade agreements and heavy politics (especially during the early 19th century). I do enjoy a certain level of political fiction but this was heavy stuff even for a Mitchell novel. I think at nearly 500 pages, it just gets arduous. Secondly, in terms of period dramas, I wouldn’t be a massive fan of anything pre-World War One. My favourite period is from 1910’s to 1950’s. I really enjoy reading novels set during that time. Anything before that just doesn’t catch my interest. I didn’t mind the section “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” in Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas (2004) which was set on a ship during the mid 19th century because it was relatively short.
Also, I did miss the slight fantasy/ sci-fi aspect that are in a lot of Mitchell’s novels.
This novel does have a niche, I think. If you enjoy politics and international relations or 19th century settings or cultural tensions (Japanese/ Dutch) then this is the book for you. I applaud Mitchell for writing this. It just shows his range of writing and his ability to switch between genres. It is a wonderful book and well written. If you enjoy the genre of the novel then you’ll adore it.