September 2011 book of the month: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
In 2007, Time magazine named him one of the most influential novelists in the world. He has twice been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The New York Times Book Review called him simply "a genius".
David Mitchell, September's author of the month, is a kind
of superstar literary gymnast. His previous books, Cloud Atlas and Number9dream are masterpieces of verbal dexterity, interconnecting plotlines and intricate structure.
But The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, his latest novel, is something new. A chronological historical novel centered on a love story between a European man and a Japanese woman, it is a profoundly researched and fully realised world that still hums with inventiveness, beautiful language and brilliance.
The year is 1799, the setting is Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the Japanese Empire's single port and sole window on to the world, the farthest outpost of the war-ravaged Dutch East Indies Company and a de facto prison for the dozen foreigners permitted to live and work there.
To this place of devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, costly courtesans, earthquakes and typhoons comes Jacob de Zoet, a devout and resourceful young clerk who has five years in the East to earn a fortune of sufficient size to win the hand of his wealthy fiancée back in Holland.
But Jacob's original intentions are eclipsed after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor and midwife to the city's powerful magistrate. Jacob finds himself in thrall to a love forbidden by tradition, culture, politics and law.
It is extraordinary to find a book that is so original, ambitious, well-written and entertaining, and readable all at once. As AS Byatt put it, David Mitchell's writing, "just gives intense pleasure".
Book club discussion: 28 September, 9-10pm
We are thrilled that David will be joining us to chat about The
Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and his previous books, on Tuesday 28 September from 9-10pm.
About David Mitchell
David Mitchell is the acclaimed author of the novels Black Swan Green, which was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Time; Cloud Atlas, which was a Man Booker Prize for Fiction finalist; Number9dream, which was short-listed for the Man Booker for Fiction also and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and Ghostwritten, awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. He lives in Ireland.