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Midnight's Children
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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, A Novel - David Mitchell [a:David Mitchell|4565|David Mitchell|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1347623450p2/4565.jpg]'s [b:Cloud Atlas|49628|Cloud Atlas|David Mitchell|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1344305390s/49628.jpg|1871423] was perhaps my favorite book from last summer. It was an ambitious effort, with multiple genres interwoven, and some really marvelous writing within each segment. It was brilliantly executed, and made me a big fan of Mitchell. Hence I was eager and curious about this novel.

[b:The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet|7141642|The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet|David Mitchell|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320540908s/7141642.jpg|7405757] is nothing like [b:Cloud Atlas|49628|Cloud Atlas|David Mitchell|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1344305390s/49628.jpg|1871423]. It is simply a wonderfully crafted piece of historical fiction, set in a small trading post of the Dutch East Indies Company on a constructed island in the Nagasaki harbor. It's the late 1790s, and Japan is closed to the West. It is ruled by the Shoguns and their allies. Jacob de Zoet is a Dutch clerk arriving on a ship from Europe with a superior from the company intent on assessing the corruption occurring in Dejima. Before he has arrived on land, he already has a broken nose, and he is paralyzed with anxiety that his talisman of good fortune, a family psalter, will be discovered and confiscated by a regime hostile to all foreign religion. Soon he has met and become enamored of a disfigured Japanese midwife, whom he meets through circumstances too delightful to ruin by previewing them here. Meanwhile he is making no friends among the other Westerners on Dejima, as he is the one who must comb through the records of several years of trading to identify incidences of corruption, of which, of course, there are many. He also meets a mysterious monk who offers to buy the medicinal mercury he has personally brought to trade here as a means of making a small nest egg with which he can marry his fiancee back in Holland. The plot is thick with adventure, international conflict and diplomacy, lots of political maneuvering, and, of course, the complicated love interest. The writing works well, and Mitchell does a marvelous job of creating characters of all sorts through their dialogue. I will give you a view of the setting as Jacob first sees it coming ashore:

"Nagasaki itself, wood grey and mud brown, looks oozed from between the verdant mountains' splayed toes. The smells of seaweed, effluence, and smoke from countless flues are carried over the water. The mountains are terraced by rice paddies nearly up to their serrated summits.

A madman, Jacob supposes, might imagine himself in a half-cracked jade bowl.

Dominating the shorefront is his home for the next year: Dejima, a high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island, some 200 paces along its outer curve, Jacob estimates, by eighty paces deep, and erected, like much of Amsterdam, on sunken piles. "

This is a great book, and I highly recommend it!