While I am adjusting to day-to-day life in Amsterdam I am also exploring the link between the country that raised me and the country that first claimed it. Part of this exploration is reading books by Dutch writers or Dutch history and novels.
I just recently finally saw the movie Cloud Atlas, so it seemed to make even more sense to explore another David Mitchell book… one that explores The Netherlands psyche and Japan…. The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet.
I for one was not aware of the trading relations that existed between the closed empire of Japan and The Netherlands in the late 1700’s and into the 1800’s so for a start this book was a revelation. In addition Japan holds a powerful mystique for many westerners so this was a very interesting one to hold and begin to read.
After the arcane machinations of Cloud Atlas, this book is of a more simple narrative structure. Although multiple narratives and plots are pursued, the time line is more linear and easier to follow. This story also rounds out into a neater, resolved solution.
In this book, the VOC and the Dutch themselves are portrayed in a complexly negative way, both through the eyes of the various Japanese characters d the various stories about their pasts that the Dutch characters relate.
Ensconced in the relative comforts of the 21st century, we tend to forget that, even for rich, trading nations with a glorious past, life was unpredictable, brutal and still pretty short on the whole. The book also shows that, for all the liberal niceties of the emerging state of Netherlands, those with lots of capital of course got the main chances, and opportunities for anyone were slim and required a level of ingenuity bordering on the criminal.
David Mitchell’s writing is, as always, sublime. Whether one has an interest in Japan, Netherlands or indeed history or not, this is a compelling read about love, power, greed and redemption. To be fair, as part of my exploration of Dutch writers and books, this hardly qualifies. But it did sketch in more of the historical background around the evolution of the socio political estate that is now The Netherlands.
If you liked Cloud Atlas, you will probably like this one, even though it is such a different book. The bottom line remains: David Mitchell can WRITE!
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet