The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoeb is Mitchell's latest offering-- a historical novel set in Japan. The novel opens in 1699, a time when Japan was isolated from the West with the exception of a small Dutch trading outpost.
The first scene describes a difficult birth attended by Orito Aibagawa, a young Japanese midwife. The endangered mother is the favorite concubine of the Japanese magistrate, and the outcome of this birth will influence the shape of events to come.
The story then abandons this scene, and the next chapter introduces Jacob, a young clerk who hopes to earn enough money during his assignment to marry the young woman he left behind. Jacob is to examine the outpost's books and determine all who are responsible for the corruption that has drastically reduced the profits of the Dutch East India Company. As the culture of corruption is widespread, Jacob knows he is not going to be a popular figure.
Aside from fictional narrative, the novel gives an interesting look at two societies that differ drastically--the power struggles, the social and diplomatic differences, the necessity of translators, the contrast between the feudal society in Japan and the Dutch contingent, deviousness and deceit.
Rich in detail, the novel nevertheless takes a while to pick up momentum. There is a threat of malevolence that occurs early in the book, and the first portion had me worrying about Jacob, then comes a burst of several intertwined circumstances and events begin moving at a faster pace.
While I found one subplot a little over the top, the writing kept me involved enough to put my doubts aside. There are a lot of characters, but I didn't have much difficulty absorbing them even with the Japanese names. I simply sank into the novel and enjoyed the experience.
Maybe a 4/5.
Fiction. Historical fiction. 2010. 479 pages.