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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

43. – 603.) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell – It is 1799 and the Dutch East India Company has the sole European trading post in Nagasaki, Japan. In Europe Napoleon is conquering continental Europe.

Following the path of generations of ambitious but poor young men de Zoet has signed up for 5 years of service in Asia with the Company. A new clerk, he is assigned the unpopular task of re-creating accurately the ledgers of corrupt predecessors. Dishonesty has become entrenched.

Dutch life is confined to the small artificial island of Dejima in the harbour. All communication and trade with the Japanese goes through the heavily guarded land gate. Japan is still intent on minimizing European contacts and influences.

Despite Japanese determination to preserve its isolation the discoveries of European science are filtering into nation. Japanese scholars are eager to learn. New knowledge is dispelling and disproving long held traditions and superstitions.

The book is a fascinating portrayal of the interaction between the Dutch and Japanese on a personal scale in this confined setting.

The lonely de Zoet, while never forgetting the lovely Anna back in the Netherlands, seeks a relationship with Orito. A well born woman disfigured by a severe burn she is a midwife and has managed to get the chance to gain medical knowledge from the crusty Dr. Marinus. A fragile contact is built.

De Zoet and Orito have modest lives. Their efforts to live with integrity find little favour in either society. Their choices are sharply circumscribed by each culture. Around them intrigues swirl and business transactions are negotiated. Each suffers for their stubborn honesty.

Orito is taken away to a monastery. De Zoet seeks to help her. The book does not unfold like a Hollywood movie.

As each adapts to life without the other international politics complicate life in Nagasaki. There is a breath taking confrontation involving de Zoet whose powerful images will long be remembered by readers.

Early in the book I found myself comparing the story with Shogun by James Clavell in which shipwrecked English sailor, John Blackthorne, two centuries earlier is drawn into the plots and schemes of aristocratic Japan. De Zoet is involved with far lower ranking Japanese. Initially, I found myself missing the grand adventures experienced by Blackthorne. As the book went I found myself captured by the challenges of the characters. While I loved the epic sweep of Shogun there are compelling personal stories in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. By the end I was enjoying the book as much as Shogun. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is deserving of its acclaim. (Aug. 4/11)

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