David Mitchell’s novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, is a surprising narrative that follows a young Dutchman as he progresses from naivete to weary wisdom working on the Dutch East India Company’s trading post, Dejima, near Nagasaki, Japan. The novel resonates with the first section of Cloud Atlas and transports readers to the late 18th century of the Edo Period.
Jacob de Zoet is in love and he signs up with the Dutch East India Company in order to return to Holland and marry his beloved Anna. The idea is put to him by his future father-in-law who hopes time and distance will lead another, better-suited man to his daughter.
Driven by his faith in God and sense of moral justice, Jacob is an outcast among his fellow companions. In an attempt to end corruption, he’s assigned to go through all of the books for the new Chief Resident. Will Jacob be led to corruption himself so far from home? Or, will he maintain his beliefs even if it means risking a return to the one he loves?
For most writers, this narrative may be enough, but Mitchell grows expansive as events change. Not only is the novel about Jacob de Zoet, but it’s about a time of tension in Japan as the outside world begins to press harder against Japanese isolationism. To complicate matters, Jacob is tangled into the web of a powerful judge, Lord Abbot Enomoto, who is master of a monastery that may hold the secret to eternal life. Bribery, intimidation, abduction and murder are all tools the Lord Abbot uses to keep control. In the face of such opposition, Jacob finds himself once again questioning what he will do for those he loves.