I finished this a week ago, and since then it’s been bedding down in my head. I’ve thought about it every day since. The oddest manifestation of this book’s grip on me has been the way I see “EDO” every time I play Words With Friends.
This is one of those books which is at once a gift and a miracle. It’s so good that it’s hard getting your head around the fact that somebody with the same biological apparatus between their ears as you went and produced something as startling as this is.
(When I was an undergraduate, I used to write snarky theatre reviews for the university newspaper. They were quite good, some of them. I only raise this because it’s much, much easier to write a snarky review than an enthusiastic one. So apologies for the breathlessness of this).
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is set in Japan in 1799. Well, sort of. It’s also set on Dejima, the Dutch trading post which was in fact an artificial island just off Nagasaki, whose gate was almost literally the only contact Japan had with the rest of the world at that time. The dizzying oddness of that fact is not a bad place to start a book, and David Mitchell does extraordinary justice to the set-up he has chosen, showing how two distinct – and distinctly unusual – cultures like the Dutch and the Japanese clash, embrace and then separate.
This is the finest book I’ve read since Wolf Hall. Wolf Hall was the finest book I’d read since Cryptonomicon. And Cryptonomicon was the finest book I’d read since Portrait of Â a Lady. Which is another way of saying this is one of the best five books I’ve read in the last 25 years.
Sometimes, you put a book down, and all you can say is “Thanks.” So, Mr Mitchell. Thanks.