The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

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Four (and maybe a half) stars, read in January 2016.

I don’t know how this book was written before The Bone Clocks, unless Mitchell was planning them at the same time. The connections are too small and intricate for me to imagine. I can’t say how the experience might have been different if I hadn’t read The Bone Clocks first, but I’m glad I did. It’s not necessary to the story, it’s just another element of that interconnectedness that’s always a feature of Mitchell’s works.

Reading this book wasn’t always pleasant. The Thousand Autumns is set at the very end of the 1700s, which is a rough time in global history. European nations in particular are just barging around the world, deciding they should rule places and the people who already live there. Medical and scientific knowledge are still in their most fledgling stages. Japan is completely closed to outsiders, except for an exclusive and very limited trade relationship with the Dutch East India Company. In 1799, Jacob de Zoet arrives on Dejima, the artificial island that is the only part of Japan open to the Dutch.

I picked up this book wanting it to confirm my suspicion that David Mitchell’s my newest favorite author. It ended up being more complicated than that; because of the setting, it took me much longer to settle in and reach that rhythm I’d loved so much in Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks. And because of some pretty awful things that happen in the book, I was too apprehensive almost until the very end to be able to say whether or not I liked itnot until I knew how it was going to turn out.

But all is well: I did like it, and I’m still thinking about it a couple days later. In fact, I think it’s preventing me from picking anything else up. Maybe when I finish this review I’ll be able to move on (probably to another of his books, since I raided the library last week and brought home all I could find).

I love the way David Mitchell’s books think about the world, and the way they make me think. I love the variety in his characters, protagonists and antagonists, and the fact that you’re not always sure who is which. I really love the physical books themselves, which always have beautiful covers and fonts I like looking at and a heft that for some reason makes me ignore my usual preference for paperbacks over hardcover, even when I switch arms and realize that my non-dominant arm is not strong enough to hold the book for more than a few seconds. David Mitchell is making me exercise, and not just my brain. What more do you want from a book?

Read-alikes:

The Valley of Amazement, by Amy Tan
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

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