Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: Week Two

Keskustelu75 Books Challenge for 2011

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Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: Week Two

Tämä viestiketju on "uinuva" —viimeisin viesti on vanhempi kuin 90 päivää. Ryhmä "virkoaa", kun lähetät vastauksen.

1msf59
kesäkuu 19, 2011, 7:59am

This thread doesn't officially start until Wednesday but if you are reading ahead, you can post here. This one will take us from Chapter 19 to the end.
Hope everyone is enjoying themselves.

2vancouverdeb
kesäkuu 19, 2011, 8:19am

Yes Mark! What a book! I'm totally entranced by part two - nearly finished part two. Great book! :)

3tangledthread
kesäkuu 20, 2011, 5:10pm

Wow...there are a lot of reveals in chapters 19-24!!

4tangledthread
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 21, 2011, 12:28pm

And now onto part three which begins in yet a different tone....don't know whether to call it voice or point of view...or is there some other term that fits better?

5msf59
kesäkuu 21, 2011, 3:59pm

I just reached the 300 page mark. I was really beginning to miss Jacob but now I'm hung up on Ogawa Uzaemon. Another terrific character.

6qebo
kesäkuu 21, 2011, 7:20pm

I began Book Three today. I'm kind of weirded out by events of Book Two, but want to see these folks through to the end...

7richardderus
kesäkuu 21, 2011, 8:43pm

Wait now...am I supposed to post here *after* I read ch19, and until then in the first thread?

8qebo
kesäkuu 21, 2011, 9:30pm

7: Maybe it depends on what you want to post? Here, presumably, spoilers for pre-19 are permitted?

9EBT1002
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 21, 2011, 11:51pm

Getting into Part Three now: The Master of Go. In addition to being one of the very few books that make it onto my Re-Read list, this book may want me to give the game of Go a try again. I played it some with a boyfriend when I was 13-going-on-14 (summer of '74 in case you wondered), but have not played it as an adult.

The ending of Part Two was intense.

10msf59
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 6:39am

RD- I think you have it right sir! It's just to avoid spoilers. Hope you are enjoying it.

11tangledthread
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 11:01am

am not done yet....but I am wondering: What do we want to read next?!

12labfs39
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 12:01pm

Finished! Good historical novel, but not the literary powerhouse that Cloud Atlas was. I love the way Mitchell places with words, such as when Kobayashi is asking Jacob for help translating certain words and phrases: repercussion, in broad daylight, impotent, blithely unaware, lack of prove positive. (p. 115) Very clever. And I had to chuckle at: West to east, the sky unrolls and rolls its atlas of clouds. (p. 346)

My edition has an essay by Mitchell at the end of the book titled "On Historical Fiction". Did anyone else read it? What did you think?

13qebo
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 12:06pm

12: I saw the essay on historical fiction and plan to read it when I'm done with the novel. I'm concerned about spoilers before then.

14labfs39
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 12:10pm

I don't remember spoilers, but I understand your wariness. It was more philosophical about the history of the historical novel, why do they endure, why do authors write them, and the problem of language. This last part was particularly interesting to me because we always seem to end up discussing Mitchell's language!

15EBT1002
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 1:46pm

Hmmm, not sure I have that essay. I hope so.

I also loved the quote on page 346 - a not-so-subtle reference to his earlier work. Nice.

Mitchell seems to be very intentional in his attention to the reader. He's not just telling us a story, he's kind of playing with us and saying, "there, you like that? pretty cute, eh?"

I haven't read Cloud Atlas but I don't see how I can avoid it now. If it's "better"(?) than this, it's a must-read.

16vancouverdeb
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 4:05pm

I finished A Thousand Autumns a couple of days ago -but I've not written anything about it so as not to create any spoliers. I enjoyed part two the most.

17labfs39
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 6:12pm

#15 I do think Mitchell likes to play with his readers. At times I felt as though Cloud Atlas was a challenge to his readers to decode his structure and references, and almost too cutesy (but not quite). It is a very different book than Thousand Autumns, which is a more mainstream historical novel. I haven't read any of his other works, but I read a review that implied he is able to write well in any genre, making me think he has tried several.

18msf59
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 7:55pm

I started Book 3 and it's not quite as satisfying so far, maybe it will change. Mitchell keeps veering away from my favorite characters and all I keep thinking about is what they are doing at this point.
Does anyone else think this book, could have been more stream-lined, or is it perfect the way it is?
Just wondering.

tangledthread- I plan on hosting The Wind-up Bird Chronicles Group Read, the middle of next month. Interested? Beyond that, I haven't thought about it much.

19Donna828
kesäkuu 22, 2011, 10:33pm

>12 labfs39:: Lisa, that is so cool about the 'atlas of clouds' reference in this book. I read Jacob before I read Cloud Atlas so, of course, it didn't have any significance for me.

>17 labfs39:: The very first Mitchell book I read was Black Swan Green, a coming of age story with lots of adolescent humor and angst. I've liked all three of his books for different reasons, but Cloud Atlas was by far the most ambitious - and the one I'm still thinking about!

>18 msf59:: Oh goody, another Murakami next month. I bought this book a while ago in hopes that I would have some encouragement to get through it. I'm so in for the Wind-up Bird, Mark.

20Smiler69
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 23, 2011, 12:24am

I finished the book yesterday, and will come back for more comments later, but do agree with you Mark that there were whole sections where I kept going yes, but, what about so and so? and frankly was a bit lost with the action, particularly in part 3.

I agree with you Deborah; part 2 was a favourite here too. By far. In fact, I wouldn't have minded if the novel had continued on the topics broached there.

Won't talk about the ending until a good majority gets there, but I have comments about that, to be sure.

21richardderus
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 12:25am

Okay, will someone please be so good as to enlighten me about why this book is a work of genius? I'm not at all saying it isn't, only that I don't see what elevates it above "nicely written straightforward historical novel that could've been done by any competent historical novelist."

Nice images. Lovely lines. Amusing plot twists. CHaracters well realized (Ivo Oost being my particular favorite). But not one thing elevates it above "good read!" for me. What, please, am I missing?

As a yardstick of my attitude, I think "Ulysses" is a showoffy young man's mental masturbation, but still acknowledge its place in the ranks of genius works. That I happen to dislike. So it's not that I have to *like* something to think it's genius. Heck, I like this book fine. But brilliant? How? On what measure?

22EBT1002
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 1:04am

#21 > Well, I'm no literary expert but here are my thoughts. I'm one who loves the book but I don't know if I would say it's a work of genius. It's beautifully written. I love Mitchell's description of places and people, and his movement between external and internal dialogue, and his more-noticeable-than-usual interaction with the reader. I think the characters are rich and artfully developed for us. His writing is lyrical without being pretentious. I've re-read many lines just to savor the language.

I'm not sure what qualifies something as a "work of genius" and I'm guessing it's too soon to tell about this one. It's a wonderful novel, but I don't think it's shattering any deeply-held assumptions or elucidating human foibles that we don't all already know about. It's been called a "masterpiece" but I assume some of that is marketing. If people are still reading it and talking about it in a decade or two, that may be what truly starts qualifying it as a "masterpiece."

I'm in part three and finding it less engaging than part two. Still, I love the book.

23tangledthread
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 8:53am

# 15 The essay can be found here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/7685510/David-Mitchell-on-H...
My book doesn't have it.

I didn't know anything about the author and found this wiki entry interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mitchell_%28author%29

I'm not finished with the book yet and I don't know if this is a great, enduring novel. What I do know is that this guy is one heck of a writer with an amazing ability to write dialogue and scene.

The opening of chapter 29 "An Uncertain Place" was interesting to me as Jacob experiences a dream within a dream. Mitchell did some similar things with Orito back in Book 2, but it was used as an expression of the effect the solace drug on her thinking. He does it again at the beginning of chapter 34 with Penhaligon.

As a device, the dream stuff may help express the homesickness and longing of the characters. But as a reader, it dislocates me and I have to stop and look for clues of where I am in the story. That would annoy me with a lot of other authors, but with this Mitchell it's like he's making me stop, think and relocate myself within the story and the essence of the dreaming character.

24benitastrnad
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 9:43am

I too and somewhat skeptical about the use of these words to describe Mitchell's work. In my opinion, the use of the word genius and masterpiece is over done. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a good novel. It might even be a great novel, but we don't know that yet. Only time will tell if it is a great work of genius. However, I do think that Mitchell is a good writer and may well be on his way to being great. I have read two of his books now (I am not done with Jacob - only about half way) and think that the common thread of the two books is language and its usage. I think that #21 has stated the highlights of Mitchell's talents as a writer.

Coming after Cloud Atlas, Jacob is most certainly a change of pace - and genre and is a much more straightforward work of historical fiction. Cloud Atlas was amazing and possible a work of genius and anything following that would be a lesser light. However, I think that this genre and style of writing allows Mitchell to play with language and words and will help to develop his talents along this line for future writing. I do not think that this author has reached the pinnacle of his abilities.

Clearly he is an author with much potential but I am not sure at this stage that he should be called a genius or his works masterworks. I think they are in a class of rare works of literature but only time will tell. The use of the words genius and masterpiece are without a doubt advertising hype and I view them as such. Is it advertising? Yes. Is it truth in advertising? No.

25labfs39
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 11:55am

#21 I hear what you are saying, Mark. I chose to read Thousand Autumns because of the impression Cloud Atlas made on me. I was surprised to find TAoJdZ so mainstream. There are still some zinger lines, the interaction with the reader, and the journal type format, but frankly, I am having a hard time thinking of themes to discuss in the group read. It was not that way with CA where discussions were bursting out everywhere.

I think this often happens with authors who write a great book--everything after is touted as genius, but never quite lives up to the original. A case in point is Geraldine Brooks. I thought People of the Book was very good. Since then it's been a downhill slide, her latest, Caleb's Crossing, being quite a disappointment. I keep reading her hoping for another PotB and because of the publisher's hype. Perhaps I should give up, but hope springs eternal.

26benitastrnad
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 1:37pm

I just have to digress and say that I thought that Brooks' first book Year of Wonder was good and March was even better. People of the Book was OK but not as good as March. I think that Jacob is a good book, and I have to respect Mitchell for it. I just don't think that publishers should be touting books as works of genius and masterpieces when we don't know that yet. However, Jacob is a wonderful book, and I do agree that it has surprised me because it is so different from Cloud Atlas. I am glad to see that Mitchell is trying different things as a writer and that should only make him better in the future.

27Smiler69
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 4:23pm

I did not read Cloud Atlas yet, and so came at Jacob de Zoet with little preconceived notions. I found it to be a very good historical fiction novel, and very clever (almost too clever for it's own good sometimes?) but definitely not a masterpiece. In fact, I'm glad Richard came out and expressed that point of view, because I dared not until now.

To be sure, there are wonderful passages and some very nice prose writing, and as I mentioned before, book 2 was a special treat all by itself. But I did find the overall novel to be very uneven in terms of where the focus of the story went and the overall composition this created (can one use the word 'composition' when talking about books?—I'm seeing this book as a neoclassical Dutch painting). I found his dialogue very good, and the device of breaking it up with the action was very interesting and made for unusual pacing, but by the third part of the novel, it felt very much like a device which Mitchell obviously had lots of fun with, like a kid with a new toy, but maybe he should not have used quite so much?

Don't want to divulge anything, but the way he treated the ending reminded me of the ending of a book by Ian McEwan which left me frustrated. In both cases, I found the approach took away from the whole which would have been better had that part been left out altogether. That sounds much too vague, I know, but again, just don't want to spoil it for anyone.

I'll have no problem writing a review for this one, but my appreciation of the various parts of the novel, down to specific moments, varies so much that I have no idea how I'll rate this book.

28tangledthread
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 4:27pm

#25 & 26....I have to agree with benitastrnad....Brooks' Year of Wonder stands out for me as her best work. People of the Book had its weak stretches.....to me it felt like the book just ran out of gas rather than actually come to an end. Haven't read March or Caleb's Crossing yet.

I do wonder how one's first experience with an author sets us up for our reaction to subsequent readings. Have not read Cloud Atlas yet, but am wondering how my response will compare to those who have read Cloud before Jacob.

Back to Jacob and themes to discuss. A couple ideas pop into my mind:
- there's the trafficking of women, and the women's varying reactions to their captivity and forced gestation.
- there's looking at "globalization" at the turn of the 19th century.......are things really all that different than today where commerce and military actions make for strange bedfellows.
- there's looking at the interesting things that happen at the interface of distinctly different cultures.

29vancouverdeb
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 6:50pm

Mark, in my opinion, this book could have been streamlined - yes. I'll say more when everyone is finished. Part 2 was definitely my favourite.

30qebo
kesäkuu 23, 2011, 9:32pm

Done. And I read the essay at the end -- no spoilers, for anyone wondering (see posts 12-14). Thoughts about the novel need a bit of processing time.

I wonder whether another thread should be set up for people who are done and want to comment with spoilers included?

31billiejean
kesäkuu 25, 2011, 3:46pm

I did think this was a wonderful story. I loved the way Jacob developed as the book went on. I found the discussion of home and country when living as an expat cut off from information particularly interesting, as well as the constant emphasis on language. And the doctor Marinus was an especially favorite character of mine. Thanks for suggesting another great group read, Mark!

32tangledthread
kesäkuu 25, 2011, 3:52pm

Done!! I loved this book. As Billiejean says (#31)...I too loved the way the character of Jacob developed as the story progressed.

Thanks for hosting this, Mark!

33msf59
kesäkuu 26, 2011, 8:31am

I finished it yesterday. I thought it closed out very strong, which made up for a plodding Book 3. I ended up giving the book 4 stars. Yes, it was uneven. I wish it could have focused more on my favorite characters. I loved the Dr Marinus character, but he was almost non-existent in the 2nd half of the novel. Would have loved to have seen more Orito too. What an excellent creation.
But Mitchell's writing ends up ruling the day. This man is a heck of a writer. If he could have stream-lined this book and made it more focused, this could have been a modern classic.

34mollygrace
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 26, 2011, 3:38pm

I longed for Jacob and Dr. Marinus when the book took us away from them. The story of the women reminded me too much of The Handmaid's Tale. But there was an inevitability (for me, anyway) about the outcome of that part of the book that made me want it to end quickly and of course it didn't.

The writing was the treasure for me, and I've enjoyed revisiting the island.
The ending of the book was just right, I thought -- as it should be.

35tangledthread
kesäkuu 27, 2011, 2:49pm

A couple of thoughts after mulling over the finished book.

In his essay about writing historical fiction ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/7685510/David-Mitchell-on-H... ), Mitchell talks about trying to get the vernacular correct for the time period of the book. It strikes me that was one of the reason it took me a good while to settle into the book. At first it felt like reading a translation....then I started listening to an MP3 version of the book and was able to give the characters voices and accents.

When you think about it, there are an astounding number of different cultures/languages that must be reflected in the characters: the Dutch, a German speaking Dutch, Japanese, Japanese speaking Dutch, English, Javanese slaves, Australian from New South Wales, the British........and those are just the ones I remember from the top of my head. And then some of those can be divided into different classes withing those cultures.

I'm curious about other readers....did you read sections out loud? Did you give people different accents in your head....especially the Japanese?

Another imponderable related to the language issue.....David Mitchell is a person with the difficulty of stuttering.

My second line of thought came about after reading this essay this afternoon: http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/

It made me think about the development of Jacob de Zeut as a character...and see parallels with other great literary characters. This essay begs the comparison to Marlow in Heart of Darkness but the theme of the growth of a leader through a journey and exile has been going on since Homer. And one could read Orito as one of the many women left behind in Homer and Greek mythology.

So those are my rambling thoughts while I digest this book.

36EBT1002
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 10:03am

35> I didn't read sections of dialogue aloud but I think it sounds like a great idea. I also read Mitchell's essay and kind of wished I had read it before reading the novel. This shifts in POV along with the numerous ways that language plays into the development of the story - dialogue, character development, theme, etc. - made for a complex piece of work. I think there is much in the book that is escaping me - like some of the allusions to which you refer that I suspect were conscious on Mitchell's part.

37richardderus
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 10:04am

This book is one hard slog for me.

38Smiler69
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 28, 2011, 4:57pm

#35 I'm glad I went with the audiobook version precisely because of the different accents. I have a hard time imagning accents, and only very rarely read out loud, so I find audios are really helpful in that regard. Sometimes I wished I had a print version so I could go back and re-read bits of prose that especially appealed to me, but for the most part, I think it would have been rough going through the parts I found to be of lesser interest (most of part 3, for instance).

As for the ending, I didn't think it added anything to the story to know in a few lines how the rest of his life went. He just wasn't that convincing to me as a central figure in the story, which might be a big part of the problem. Marinus, Orito and Uzaemon just seemed so much more interesting whereas Jacob seemed like he just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Except for that bit towards the end that made him a hero of course, and maybe I'm not playing along with the author, but I just wasn't convinced that he had that in him. I do *get* that Mitchell probably made Jacob into an ordinary guy quite on purpose and that's what makes him an 'interesting' hero in a roundabout way, but... meh.

39alcottacre
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 5:00pm

#38: He just wasn't that convincing to me as a central figure in the story, which might be a big part of the problem. Marinus, Orito and Uzaemon just seemed so much more interesting whereas Jacob seemed like he just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

I agree with you, Ilana. I kept thinking to myself 'What is the big deal about Jacob?' I finished the book yesterday and was ultimately disappointed in the end. The more I think about the book, the less I like it, especially since I loved Cloud Atlas. Perhaps comparing Mitchell to himself is not fair, but there it is.

40vancouverdeb
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 5:54pm

RD - I finished my copy last week - I agree with you... :) I'll post a few of my comments later - they are on my thread.

41vancouverdeb
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 6:03pm

Here - I copied what I wrote on my thread re Thousand Autumns. I should preface this by saying that I read quite a bit of historical fiction and most often I really enjoy it. But perhaps I am accustomed to more of an accurate account of what happened. I should also say that our dear friend Mark encouraged me to put my comments here. I do feel when someone takes the time to organize and create a group read -and then I don't care much for the book. But good old Mark says that discussion and different thoughts about the book make a good Group Read book. I guess we can't all like the same thing. Thanks Mark!!

I came to A Thousand Autumns with no preconcieved notions about the book , as I had never heard of the author before. However, I'd seen the book in the best seller section of my local bookstore each time I was in there and also in the Best Seller's area of my library. Each time I saw it I would pick it up and consider reading it - but then I would put it down in favour of another book. When the group read came along, I thought this would be a good time to discipline myself to read the book. And it did take discipline to finish the book.

I'm afraid I have to swim against the current in saying that while I am glad that I read the book so I can finally put my curiousity about the book to rest - overall I did not enjoy the book -and cannot recommend it to others.

The book was about 450 or more pages long -and I found that the author was very wordy, as well as bringing in tangents to the plot line that seemed to serve no purpose. One example was part three - where a prolonged battle between the British and the Dutch took place. I really felt that served no purpose to the storyline.

There were over 150 characters - and I had to download a list to try to keep track of each character. I found the beginning to go very slowly -and just as I was beginning to get attached to Jacob de Loet - the book shifted into part 2 - and Jacob was no longer an important part of the book. Part two - which takes place in an isolated nunnery really caught my interest . It was very creepy - but so creepy I found myself chuckling at how farfetched the nunnery was. The place is run by monks and an evil man named Abbot Enomoto. Just when I was getting into part two - Mitchell shifted into part 3 - which I really did not understand the purpose of. Part three mainly seemed to be a story about the Dutch and the British getting into a fight in Decima - which is the place where most of the this novel took place. I found the ending somewhat confusing and either I did not quite understand the ending - or a lot of loose threads were left.

Nonetheless - I give the book 3 stars. I did learn a fair bit about how isolated Japan was in the 1700's , I did enjoy part two -and overall I got a some what of a picture of Japan at that time in history - though I fear it is quite inaccurate.

I'm glad that I've finally read the book because I'd been curious about it for sometime. It bills itself as historical fiction -but compared to the historical fiction I am accustomed to reading -this was so long winded and I suspect fairly inaccurate. Perhaps this book was simply not written for me.

42qebo
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 6:24pm

My comments are strewn with spoilers.

43richardderus
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 6:45pm

Uncle. I give. Five lights. Mitchell has defeated me. I cannot slog through book 3. Can. Not. I read the ending, so I know what happens, but I will not be responsible for my actions if one more super-obvious betrayal happens.

44tangledthread
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 6:57pm

>41 vancouverdeb:. I thought that part 3 served the purpose of informing what was going on in Europe (Napolean "occupying" the Netheralnds and the fall of the VOC (Dutch East India Company). Those events meant that the Dutch people left on Dejima were stranded very far from home in the closed Japanese society.

The first part of the book set Jacob up as a man of integrity...conflicted, but who isn't. The third part of the book required that he act on the kind of integrity that was set up in the first part of the book. He could have just handed things over to Schmidt with the hope that he could get on a ship and head for home. But he knew that Schmidt was dishonest and would act only for his own personal gain.

By standing on the tower with Marinus while the British ship was firing on them, it meant he was willing to die or be stranded in Japan for the rest of his life rather than betray his friends in Dejima who elected him "president".

Well...anyway, that was my take.

I did like that the author brought the baby delivered in the first chapter back into the story toward the end. It resolved for me why we needed that first chapter at all.

45richardderus
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 7:05pm

My comments:

I can't call this a review. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has defeated me. I can't do *one*more* "Perils-of-Pauline" reversal of fortune/betrayal without doing violence to SOMEthing, and the only things handy are myself and the dog. Not sacrificin' either of us.

This book is very pleasantly written, taken line by line, and is an interesting window onto a time I find underexplored. De Zoet himself makes me want to scream, and Orito is so unlikely a heroine that I found myself snorting a lot. I've heard lots of carrying on about how many characters there were in the book, but this presented no problem for me, not sure why.

Perhaps this is a case of overselling a book, I don't know. I doubt it, frankly; I think I'd be chucking it in the charity bin if it was written by Schmoopie de Zoet, Jacob's great-great-grandchild. It's too many books manhandled into one. It's too much idea for too little room to explore it. It's too wrought, worked over, etched and scrimshawed and chased and gilded and MADE, for me to forget I'm reading a book and instead experience a story.

Too damned bad, too.

46msf59
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 8:31pm

Wow, lots of interesting thoughts, mostly negative. I agree, it's not perfect, but for me, it's a memorable read. Funny, I like the book more, when I think back on it. The ending worked for me, which helps. I think this novel contains some incredible writing. Mitchell may have over-stepped on this one but there is no denying his immense talent.

"Crows smear rumors across the matted, sticky sky."

Deb- Thanks for including your opinions here. I hope you don't give up on Mitchell completely.

Richard- " It's too many books manhandled into one". Perfectly said, sir! Glad you hung in there and gave it your best shot. I also agree with you, about prematurely calling this a masterpiece and other similiar accolades. You need to give a book some time, before you start throwing those terms around.

47Smiler69
kesäkuu 28, 2011, 10:12pm

#39 Glad you agree Stasia.

Perhaps comparing Mitchell to himself is not fair, but there it is

I couldn't say, since I haven't read anything else by him yet, and do fully intend to, but I get the feeling you're really onto something there. Mitchell's reputation alone was enough to set up quite a lot of expectations.

48benitastrnad
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 29, 2011, 6:56pm

I have not finished the book, but I am liking it. I think that Americans know very little about the history of the rest of the world, and some would say they know very little of their own history. We tend to think that the whole world speaks English and always did. Nine out of ten people couldn't tell you that the Dutch had an empire let alone that they managed to trade with Japan for many years before Admiral Perry sailed into Yokohama with his fleet and fired off his canons sending a clear message that we have bigger guns than you so we are better and you had better like trading with us. Thus "opening" Japan to trade with the U. S. (As if it didn't have good reasons for closing to the western world.)

The I agree that there is a little too much melodrama in the book, and the evil religious sect thing smacks heavily of conspiracy theories. However, I think that the writing is outstanding, and I like the exploration of integrity in people that seemed to be one of the overall themes of this book.

One of Mitchell's big themes in both this book and Cloud Atlas is language and how we use it to communicate or not, as the case may be. In book 1 I wanted to just hit those gross ugly Dutch because they believed that they were better than the Japanese when the truth is that in their own way they were as ignorant as the Japanese. The problems with language accentuated the problems of communication and made small differences so big that eventually they became insurmountable. It also allowed people to use it as a cloak for lying, cheating, and stealing.

Overall, so far at least, I like this book. It is too long, and I think should have been edited better, but poor editing is a problem with most of the books I read. That is not the author's problem - it is the publisher's. They won't spend the money to take the time to help an author tighten up his work because a book is all about the money that can be made from it, not about the literature itself.

49benitastrnad
kesäkuu 29, 2011, 6:58pm

I forgot to say that abrupt changes of scene seems to be a thing that Mitchell does. He did it in Cloud Atlas and in Number9Dream and he has done it in this book as well. It does tend to jerk the reader around but it allows the author to get your attention.

I think that even if Thousand Autumns isn't Mitchell's best book, I have to give him credit for experimenting and doing it well enough that I enjoyed going along with him for the read.

50mollygrace
kesäkuu 30, 2011, 10:30pm

Thank you for organizing the group read, Mark. I loved revisiting Jacob's world. Cloud Atlas is in the tbr pile and I look forward to reading it, too.

51msf59
heinäkuu 1, 2011, 6:38am

I'm not sure if everyone is done with the book or not, but I had a good time with this Group. I appreciate everyone's wonderful participation.
Next up is the Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which begins July 15th. Hope you can join us for that one.

52Smiler69
heinäkuu 1, 2011, 7:54am

I enjoyed reading everyone's comments here so far and really glad you organized this group read Mark, many thanks!

53benitastrnad
heinäkuu 1, 2011, 12:51pm

I just finished reading one section and started the Master of Go section. The switch from Orito's story and all the happenings at the shrine to the British ship would have been much more jarring if I had not had previous experience with David Mitchell. Because I was sort of prepared for this kind of jump it didn't bother me as much as it did some of the other readers in this group. Mitchell certainly keeps his readers on their toes.

54benitastrnad
heinäkuu 4, 2011, 6:39pm

I am still reading this book, and won't be done with it for a week or so. If anybody else is still reading you can still post to this list because I still want to talk about this book. I think it is very interesting and in some ways is much the same in structure as Cloud Atlas. I think that he is still experimenting with the structure and form of the novel and I am curious to see how his form works in this more historical novel. If you are still reading don't give up because I want to talk about it.

55gennyt
heinäkuu 4, 2011, 6:47pm

I just finished a few days ago - and really enjoyed it. Can't comment on the similarities with Cloud Atlas though, as I've not read that yet.

I was interested in his decision to use a present-tense narrative style. I often find this very irritating, but not here at all - indeed after noting that it was the case, I pretty much ceased to notice it. Also didn't find it irritating with Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. In both cases it helped create a feeling of immediacy, but avoided the kind of breathlessness that often seems to result from this tense choice. In Mantel's case, it worked I think because the story was told entirely from the point of view of Cromwell, and although it was told in the third person, it was effectively almost a first-person narrative. Not sure why it works with Mitchell, where there are several points of view. Perhaps there is so much else going on with the language that the use of present tense is not particularly remarkable.

56keristars
heinäkuu 4, 2011, 11:31pm

I finished reading tonight - I finally had a span of several hours to read that didn't have anything to distract me, and nothing urgent to do. Because while I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Thousand Autumns, it wasn't an easy read, and I'm often too lazy/tired to put effort into reading something that isn't easy (plus, I suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly got a promotion last week, and have been working 5 days a week rather than 2, and that does decrease my reading time quite a bit).

I avoided this thread once I got to the halfway point because I didn't want to have other opinions clouding mine. I'm glad that I avoided it - because I did like the book a lot. I didn't have problems with the number of characters (in fact, I simply let a lot of them blur together until they were at the forefront of the scene), I didn't find the repeated narrative or dialogue tricks to be annoying, and I didn't foresee every plot point before it arrived.

It isn't a perfect book, I do agree with that, mostly in that it did feel like it was a bit too long, particularly with the English ship towards the end. But I found myself delighting in the little bits of wordplay and narrative point of view and even the constant double-crossing. For all that it was a slow and long read, it was playful and fun. I kind of a lot loved the way someone from each cultural group would say something bigoted about a representative of another group, and then some time later, that first person would himself be reduced to less-than-human by yet another person.

I also liked the shifting narrators. Isn't it interesting that the only "I" was the slave Weh, who owns only two things: his true name and his thoughts?

57gennyt
heinäkuu 5, 2011, 3:59am

#56 Oh, I didn't spot that about Weh. Yes, very interesting!

58benitastrnad
heinäkuu 5, 2011, 11:52am

I just finished reading that passage about Weh and noticed it, but hadn't yet brought that up or pointed it out. You said it so well. I think that with Mitchell the reason why Weh uses I is just what you said. It is what he owns.

59tangledthread
heinäkuu 5, 2011, 12:47pm

>56 keristars:...thanks for the reminder about Weh. I read through that narrative a couple times because I found it to be an interesting perspective. Especially about owning one's thoughts.

I finished more than a week ago and am still thinking about the book.

60keristars
heinäkuu 9, 2011, 1:08pm

I finished it almost a week ago now, and I'm still mulling over the book. I think I ultimately enjoyed it a lot more than, say, Richard, because I wasn't really caring about the plot, except for the few devices that Mitchell used that echoed his playfulness with language. And I didn't find the way he used language structure or rhythms to grow wearisome, but then, I usually enjoy that sort of thing quite a lot.

I was just thinking this morning about how there are several plot elements that keep coming up - the double-crossing, for example - the same way certain bits of dialogue or description are repeated. Or even the way Mitchel structures something is repeated - and, so often, the repeated structure of the way a scene is written seems to involve showing a double-meaning or hypocrisy or the like. I wouldn't be surprised if Mitchell intended the betrayals and so on and those passages to be echoes of each other.

I might just have to buy my own copy of this book.

61benitastrnad
heinäkuu 11, 2011, 10:22am

I just finished reading the part where Jacob tells the story of Phoebes and Phaeton to the Japanese. What a wonderful way to foreshadow and event! I can just see Jacob's mind working and all those gears spinning as he tells the story while working out a way to stop the British invasion. Contrary to Richards opinion. I like this novel. It is very different from Cloud Atlas but every bit as good in its way.

I think it takes great courage for an author to write something different than what his or her public expects. Sort of like Margaret Atwood writing Alias Grace when she is known for her speculative fiction rather than historical fiction.

62gennyt
heinäkuu 11, 2011, 11:06am

#61 I'm glad you are enjoying the book still. I thought the third part was just as interesting as the first two, with the individuals we have come to know caught up in the interplay of empires rising and falling.

I agree re the courage to write in different forms and genres rather than sticking to what readers have come to expect. In the case of Atwood, she has 'broken the mould' like this at least couple of times, since most of her earlier books ( Surfacing, Lady Oracle etc), were contemporary novels, neither speculative/sci-fi like Handmaid's Tale nor historical like Alias Grace - and she also writes short stories and poetry. I like not quite knowing what kind of book an author is going to produce next.

63benitastrnad
heinäkuu 13, 2011, 8:49pm

I just finished this book and I have to say that I disagree with Richard. This is a good book. Very exciting. Justice was done, ... perhaps? I also liked the essay about writing historical novels. I need to let this one perk around before I say more, but I think I will recommend this one to my real life book discussion group.

64-Cee-
heinäkuu 16, 2011, 11:55am

This was another great book from Mitchell! Not at all like Cloud Atlas but outstanding in its own right. I seem to have most trouble *getting started* in Mitchell's novels. I eventually found in this one, all those names really didn't matter so much. The important ones stood out after awhile and I let that tension go - of trying to kept everyone straight. This helped a lot in my enjoyment of the story.

Mitchell is a fantastic writer. I love his stories within stories, twists of humor, and unexpected turns in the plot. I thought the ending in Thousand Autumns was perfect - if not entirely romantically satisfying. I love the idea that as much as life may not proceed as you would want it to, there is a higher design that justifies the means and the end.

Great read, Mark. Thanks! Sorry I failed miserably to keep up on this one... but not sorry I persevered. :)

65benitastrnad
heinäkuu 16, 2011, 4:36pm

I agree with Bahzah. This was very good novel but very different than Mitchell's other work that I had read - Cloud Atlas. I also found the ending satisfying. It is clear that both Jacob and Orito had respect for each other as well as each of the cultures and the lives that each of them had built. Not together but still satisfying and fulfilling lives that mattered and made a difference. Most importantly they both managed to maintain their integrity and thereby the respect of their colleagues.

The justice at the end with the magistrate and the Abbot was a very surprising twist to the story. I did not realize that the Abbot went into the room fully expecting the magistrate to commit suicide with him as the witness. What an ending to that thread of the story!

66msf59
heinäkuu 17, 2011, 8:39am

I'm glad you both enjoyed it. I appreciate you tagging along. It turned out to be a very good Group Read.

67Smiler69
heinäkuu 18, 2011, 3:29pm

I've been enjoying the comments, as the book has stayed with me and it's helping me appreciate some parts of it more than I may have initially. I'm finding more and more that there are some books which just keep growing on me long after I've finished actually reading them, and this is one such novel. In fact, I may eventually get a print copy or listen to the audio again at some point. Probably after I've read other books by Mitchell though.

68tangledthread
heinäkuu 19, 2011, 9:00pm

#67 I couldn't agree more. I'm still thinking about Jacob...and I'm now reading Cloud Atlas

69benitastrnad
heinäkuu 20, 2011, 9:47am

I went from reading this book to reading Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and can't help but make comparisons between the two books and styles of writing. Some things are very similar and of course the surrealism in the both books is similar. Or is that magical realism.

70labfs39
heinäkuu 20, 2011, 4:12pm

I am finding similarities between Cloud Atlas and Wind-Up Bird too. One example is the birthmark/mark and another is the idea of needing to go down or up.

71wookiebender
heinäkuu 25, 2011, 8:57pm

Sorry I didn't have time to participate in the discussion. I finished the book a week or two ago, and this is my review that I wrote last night:

At the beginning of the 19th century, clerk Jacob de Zoet sails into Dejima, a tiny man made island in the bay of Nagasaki, and Japan's only link to the western world. Japanese people are not allowed outside of Japan, and very few Europeans are allowed onto Japanese soil. And those Europeans are all Dutch, whose Dutch East Indies Company has sole trading rights with Japan. But the company is slowly falling apart at home, and is rife with corruption at Dejima.

I have to say this book had a very slow, almost interminable beginning. Apart from the opening chapter, which details a birth going horribly wrong (complete with an anatomical diagramme). That opening chapter alone took two attempts (several months apart) to get through, and once that was over it was just a matter of plodding through about 200 pages of financial corruption. Once we finally get to the end of that section, however, there are some breathtaking twists and turns, and the plot and the characters kick into high gear and it became the great read it should have been from the very start.

It's a mishmash of plots by then, but I'm rather fond of mishmashes. And one rather startling coincidence on which hangs the novel's conclusion that did leave me feeling slightly shortchanged. Whether it's enough of a nice messy complex plot with human characters to forgive the first plodding third and the slightly unbelievable climax, well, not everyone may feel that it was worth it.

-+-+-+-

And now that I've read everyone's comments (phew!), thanks for all the reminders about the language that Mitchell uses. I recognised all the quotes, so they obviously did stick in my brain, but I read more for plots than for language. :)

And I liked the battle between the English and the Dutch at Dejima more than others (but not its conclusion, that was just rather silly), although the highlight of the whole book was Orito at the nunnery. What a bizarre place, is there any historical basis to someplace/thing like that?? But I couldn't put the book down at that stage, I even gasped out loud once or twice.

And I did like the final few paragraphs about Jacob's life, because I liked him, and I wanted to know what happened to him. He was both an everyman, and a hero. (Funnily enough, the only other character that springs to mind for me with such everyman/hero characteristics is Frodo from Lord of the Rings.)

The essay by David Mitchell on writing historical fiction was also a great little insight.