Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the benefits of a book club is that you are introduced to a wide range of books that you might not ordinarily encounter. You often implicitly agree to read a book selected by someone else, a situation that many of us have not encountered outside of our formal education. I encountered this book in such a situation. Finishing this books was a challenge. On the positive side, I can honestly say that it got inside my head and made me think--about history, about medicine, about cultures, and about life. For that it gets the second star. Other than that, there are so many downsides. I will just briefly list a few:

- There is a plot within a plot and I don't feel they meshed well. Tell the story of Japan, or of the Dutch. Trying to tell a Japanese story inside of a Dutch story stranded characters for the middle third of the book.
- Love in the 1700's came with different cultural baggage to be sure, but love is love and people are people. Jacob fell for Orito too quickly for me and it turned to obsession without any provocation. I'm calling a foul.
- The side agenda to share intimate details of the medical practices of the period did not really add to the plot or characters. It was distracting and gruesome, much the way excessive violence is used in bad movies to make up for poor writing.
- The mysticism of Enomoto was never explained. His dealings with "life forces" left the book on the brink of the fantasy genre, and I think I would have liked it more if the author would have pushed it over the edge. Mitchell was already trying to add too many editorials (medicine, slavery, caste societies, etc.) that he might as well thrown in this for fun... or left the whole thing out.
-Finally, the crappy ending. Jacob doesn't get either of his love interests. He does get a son, but is separated from him and then the son dies before they can have a late-in-life reunion. On his deathbed he is still pining for Orito. Boo!

So, to sum up, this book could have been half the length with fewer editorials, more direct ties to the various plot elements, and an ending that made me glad I read it. But it didn't do any of those things. So I recommend you pass on this one unless you are the type of person who likes to watch long, drawn out drama movies where everyone dies in the end and you are left crying, wondering why life sucks. In other words, unless you are the complete opposite of me (not saying that is a bad thing, just trying to aid in your literary decisions....)