In 1799, Jacob de Zoet disembarks on the tiny island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s remotest trading post in a Japan otherwise closed to the outside world. A junior clerk, his task is to uncover evidence of the previous Chief Resident’s corruption.
Cold-shouldered by his compatriots, Jacob earns the trust of a local interpreter and, more dangerously, becomes intrigued by a rare woman—a midwife permitted to study on Dejima under the company physician. He cannot foresee how disastrously each will be betrayed by someone they trust, nor how intertwined and far-reaching the consequences.
Duplicity and integrity, love and lust, guilt and faith, cold murder and strange immortality stalk the stage in this enthralling novel, which brings to vivid life the ordinary—and extraordinary—people caught up in a tectonic shift between East and West.
Once upon a time, I read a novel called Cloud Atlas by a man called David Mitchell. It was back when I was working at the bookshop and my boss got me this book for my birthday. Over the next two months, I read these stories and ended up lost and confused. I think it just took me too long to read that book and I probably would have liked it better if I had been able to keep reading instead of picking it up and putting it down constantly.
Fast forward five years. I was looking through my unread books, trying to figure out what I wanted to take with me on holiday and this one caught my eye. I had picked it up at my second-hand bookstore a year earlier because I fell in love with the cover and because I wanted to give David Mitchell another chance. It’s not exactly a small book with 469 pages in a big paperback edition, so if I was ever going to read it, I was going to need some free time. Perfect as a holiday read!
I spent a lot of time in our hammock during that week in France, reading this book. The story moves along quite slowly at first because there are a lot of people you need to meet (I feel like this is a real David Mitchell thing, writing lots and lots of people into his stories) but the last 100 pages were absolutely thrilling.
I knew very little about The Dutch East India Company and its history, so I can honestly say that I learned a lot while reading this. I thought it was incredibly interesting and I want to read more about it in the future! (It’s part of my history after all as The Netherlands and Belgium were then united and known as De Lage Landen or The Low Countries)
I loved the tone and the atmosphere of the book and was always happy to pick it back up the next day. The descriptions of the clashing cultures (Dutch and Japanese) were well-written and gave me that illusion of being able to walk around Dejima myself.
The one thing I struggled with was that the point of view switched in the second part of the book. I had just gotten used to being Jacob’s shadow and suddenly we don’t hear from him for close to 200 pages. (Once again, I think it’s just a David Mitchell thing) It’s not that the other pov’s were less interesting. I just hadn’t expected it to go down that road.
All in all, I’m glad I ended up reading this book. I might even pick up more of David Mitchell’s works.
If you have any you want to recommend, let me know!!