William Strunk Jr. was born this week (July 1) in 1869, living a life — in style.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
by David Mitchell
There are writers and mystics and a dizzying array of key-seekers that populate the globe-hopping settings ranging from the edenic to the apocalyptic in the audacious and wondrous 2000 debut of two-time Man Booker finalist David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten. In what is a synopsis-defying collection of genre-bending, interconnecting stories and round-and-round-and-comes-out-here development, we follow the widely-varying circumstances of, among others, a brainwashed terrorist in Okinawa; a deceitful, “bent little lawyer” in Hong Kong; an elderly woman running a tea shack in China; a Manhattan disc jockey; an Irish physicist; and a transmigrating spirit in Mongolia who has “walked down the path trodden by all humans, from the mythic to the prosaic."
Shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize, Number 9 Dream stays put geographically in its Japanese setting for a coming-of-age tale about a young boy looking for the father who denies his existence. 2004’s Cloud Altlas is more experimental and complex as Mitchell employs six separate but related narratives — written in different prose styles, with each cut short mid-action only to be concluded in the second half of the book – with each account set in a distinct time and place interlacing history, science, suspense, and humor. Taking another literary U-Turn, Mitchell orients Black Swan Green, from 2006, away from the adventurous settings and narrative leaps and bounds of Cloud Atlas for a relatively provincial and small-scale novel that chronicles a single year in the sleepy village life of 13-year-old Jason Taylor, beset by bullies and burdened with self-consciousness and a bad stammer.
Now, with another genre-bending departure in the pages of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Mitchell shows himself as unwilling as ever to compromise his unpredictable, exploratory literary leanings, bearing out The Guardian’s claim that “each of his books seems entirely different from that which preceded it.” With an bold historical romance set in turn-of-the-19th-century Japan, enlightening historical details are seamlessly interwoven with wicked wit and wordplay as it follow the travels and travails of the devout young clerk Jacob de Zoet who, coming to Dejima — an artificial island located in Nagasaki Bay and used as a trade outpost by the Dutch East Indies Company — has five years to earn a fortune sizable enough to marry his wealthy fiancée in Holland. But complications arise with Jacob’s intention to put the company's financial records in order and weed out corruption, when — after meeting midwife Orito Aibagawa — he becomes embroiled in events far more threatening than forged ledgers. A well-researched work, The Thousand Autumns promises to be an enticing and inventive read.