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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

David Mitchell
5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (4 commentaires client)

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Descriptions du produit

Extrait

Chapter one

The House of Kawasemi the Concubine, above Nagasaki

The ninth night of the fifth month

"Miss kawasemi?" orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. "Can you hear me?"

In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates.

Orito dabs the concubine's sweat-drenched face with a damp cloth.

"She's barely spoken"-the maid holds the lamp-"for hours and hours. . . ."

"Miss Kawasemi, I'm Aibagawa. I'm a midwife. I want to help."

Kawasemi's eyes flicker open. She manages a frail sigh. Her eyes shut.

She is too exhausted, Orito thinks, even to fear dying tonight.

Dr. Maeno whispers through the muslin curtain. "I wanted to examine the child's presentation myself, but . . ." The elderly scholar chooses his words with care. "But this is prohibited, it seems."

"My orders are clear," states the chamberlain. "No man may touch her."

Orito lifts the bloodied sheet and finds, as warned, the fetus's limp arm, up to the shoulder, protruding from Kawasemi's vagina.

"Have you ever seen such a presentation?" asks Dr. Maeno.

"Yes: in an engraving, from the Dutch text Father was translating."

"This is what I prayed to hear! The Observations of William Smellie?"

"Yes: Dr. Smellie terms it," Orito uses the Dutch, " 'Prolapse of the Arm.' "

Orito clasps the fetus's mucus-smeared wrist to search for a pulse.

Maeno now asks her in Dutch, "What are your opinions?"

There is no pulse. "The baby is dead," Orito answers, in the same language, "and the mother will die soon, if the child is not delivered." She places her fingertips on Kawasemi's distended belly and probes the bulge around the inverted navel. "It was a boy." She kneels between Kawasemi's parted legs, noting the narrow pelvis, and sniffs the bulging labia: she detects the malty mixture of grumous blood and excrement, but not the stench of a rotted fetus. "He died one or two hours ago."

Orito asks the maid, "When did the waters break?"

The maid is still mute with astonishment at hearing a foreign language.

"Yesterday morning, during the Hour of the Dragon," says the stony- voiced housekeeper. "Our lady entered labor soon after."

"And when was the last time that the baby kicked?"

"The last kick would have been around noon today."

"Dr. Maeno, would you agree the infant is in"-she uses the Dutch term-"the 'transverse breech position' "

"Maybe," the doctor answers in their code tongue, "but without an examination . . ."

"The baby is twenty days late, or more. It should have been turned."

"Baby's resting," the maid assures her mistress. "Isn't that so, Dr. Maeno?"

"What you say"-the honest doctor wavers-"may well be true."

"My father told me," Orito says, "Dr. Uragami was overseeing the birth."

"So he was," grunts Maeno, "from the comfort of his consulting rooms. After the baby stopped kicking, Uragami ascertained that, for geomantic reasons discernible to men of his genius, the child's spirit is reluctant to be born. The birth henceforth depends on the mother's willpower." The rogue, Maeno needs not add, dares not bruise his reputation by presiding over the stillbirth of such an estimable man's child. "Chamberlain Tomine then persuaded the magistrate to summon me. When I saw the arm, I recalled your doctor of Scotland and requested your help."

"My father and I are both deeply honored by your trust," says Orito . . .

. . . and curse Uragami, she thinks, for his lethal reluctance to lose face.

Abruptly, the frogs stop croaking and, as though a curtain of noise falls away, the sound of Nagasaki can be heard, celebrating the safe arrival of the Dutch ship.

"If the child is dead," says Maeno in Dutch, "we must remove it now."

"I agree." Orito asks the housekeeper for warm water and strips of linen and uncorks a bottle of Leiden salts under the concubine's nose to win her a few moments' lucidity. "Miss Kawasemi, we are going to deliver your child in the next few minutes. First, may I feel inside you?"

The concubine is seized by the next contraction and loses her ability to answer.

warm water is delivered in two copper pans as the agony subsides. "We should confess," Dr. Maeno proposes to Orito in Dutch, "the baby is dead. Then amputate the arm to deliver the body."

"First, I wish to insert my hand to learn whether the body is in a convex lie or concave lie."

"If you can discover that without cutting the arm"-Maeno means "amputate"-"do so."

Orito lubricates her right hand with rapeseed oil and addresses the maid: "Fold one linen strip into a thick pad . . . yes, like so. Be ready to wedge it between your mistress's teeth; otherwise she might bite off her tongue. Leave spaces at the sides, so she can breathe. Dr. Maeno, my inspection is beginning."

"You are my eyes and ears, Miss Aibagawa," says the doctor.

Orito works her fingers between the fetus's biceps and its mother's ruptured labia until half her wrist is inside Kawasemi's vagina. The concubine shivers and groans. "Sorry," says Orito, "sorry . . ." Her fingers slide between warm membranes and skin and muscle still wet with amniotic fluid, and the midwife pictures an engraving from that enlightened and barbaric realm, Europe . . .

If the transverse lie is convex, recalls Orito, where the fetus's spine is arched backward so acutely that its head appears between its shins like a Chinese acrobat, she must amputate the fetus's arm, dismember its corpse with toothed forceps, and extract it, piece by grisly piece. Dr. Smellie warns that any remnant left in the womb will fester and may kill the mother. If the transverse lie is concave, however, Orito has read, where the fetus's knees are pressed against its chest, she may saw off the arm, rotate the fetus, insert crotchets into the eye sockets, and extract the whole body, headfirst. The midwife's index finger locates the child's knobbly spine, traces its midriff between its lowest rib and its pelvic bone, and encounters a minute ear; a nostril; a mouth; the umbilical cord; and a prawn-sized penis. "Breech is concave," Orito reports to Dr. Maeno, "but the cord is around the neck."

"Do you think the cord can be released?" Maeno forgets to speak Dutch.

"Well, I must try. Insert the cloth," Orito tells the maid, "now, please."

When the linen wad is secured between Kawasemi's teeth, Orito pushes her hand in deeper, hooks her thumb around the embryo's cord, sinks four fingers into the underside of the fetus's jaw, pushes back his head, and slides the cord over his face, forehead, and crown. Kawasemi screams, hot urine trickles down Orito's forearm, but the procedure works first time: the noose is released. She withdraws her hand and reports, "The cord is freed. Might the doctor have his"-there is no Japanese word-"forceps?"

"I brought them along," Maeno taps his medical box, "in case."

"We might try to deliver the child"-she switches to Dutch-"without amputating the arm. Less blood is always better. But I need your help."

Dr. Maeno addresses the chamberlain: "To help save Miss Kawasemi's life, I must disregard the magistrate's orders and join the midwife inside the curtain."

Chamberlain Tomine is caught in a dangerous quandary.

"You may blame me," Maeno suggests, "for disobeying the magistrate."

"The choice is mine," decides the chamberlain. "Do what you must, Doctor."

The spry old man crawls under the muslin, holding his curved tongs.

When the maid sees the foreign contraption, she exclaims in alarm.

" 'Forceps,' " the doctor replies, with no further explanation.

The housekeeper lifts the muslin to see. "No, I don't like the look of that! Foreigners may chop, slice, and call it 'medicine,' but it is quite unthinkable that-"

"Do I advise the housekeeper," growls Maeno, "on where to buy fish?"

"Forceps," explains Orito, "don't cut-they turn and pull, just like a midwife's fingers but with a stronger grip . . ." She uses her Leiden salts again. "Miss Kawasemi, I'm going to use this instrument"-she holds up the forceps-"to deliver your baby. Don't be afraid, and don't resist. Europeans use them routinely-even for princesses and queens. We'll pull your baby out, gently and firmly."

"Do so . . ." Kawasemi's voice is a smothered rattle. "Do so . . ."

"Thank you, and when I ask Miss Kawasemi to push . . ."

"Push . . ." She is fatigued almost beyond caring. "Push . . ."

"How often," Tomine peers in, "have you used that implement?"

Orito notices the chamberlain's crushed nose for the first time: it is as severe a disfigurement as her own burn. "Often, and no patient ever suffered." Only Maeno and his pupil know that these "patients" were hollowed-out melons whose babies were oiled gourds. For the final time, if all goes well, she works her hand inside Kawasemi's womb. Her fingers find the fetus's throat, rotate his head toward the cervix, slip, gain a surer purchase, and swivel the awkward corpse through a third turn. "Now, please, Doctor."

Maeno slides in the forceps around the protruding arm.

The onlookers gasp; a parched shriek is wrenched from Kawasemi.

Orito feels the forceps' curved blades in her palm: she maneuvers them around the fetus's soft skull. "Close them."

Gently but firmly, the doctor squeezes the forceps shut.

Orito takes the forceps' handles in her left hand: the resistance is spongy but firm, like konnyaku jelly. Her right hand, still inside the uterus, cups the fetus's skull.

Dr. Maeno's bony fingers encase Orito's wrist.

"What is it you're waiting for?" asks the housekeeper.

"The next contraction," says the doctor, "which is due any-"

Kawasemi's breathing starts to swell with fresh pain.

"One and two," counts Orito, "and-push, Kawasemi-san!"

"Push, Mistres...

Revue de presse

“Let’s . . . call David Mitchell the David Bowie of contemporary fiction. . . . If Mitchell is Bowie, then, and if his novels are albums, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is his Station to Station — sprawling, epic, infused with an elusive otherness yet with all the crowd-pleasing trappings of a popular blockbuster.”
— The Gazette
 
“The amount of research that must have gone into this meticulous, wide-ranging work of historical fiction is staggering. . . . [Mitchell] uses it to immerse the reader fully in not one world, but several. . . . An exhilarating feeling to be the hands of such a virtuosic storyteller.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
 
“Guarantees fiction of exceptional intelligence, richness and vitality.”
The Globe and Mail
 
“[Mitchell has] created his most conventional but most emotionally engaging novel yet. . . . An affecting conclusion . . . underscores Mr. Mitchell’s mastery here not only of virtuosic literary fireworks, but also of the quieter arts of empathy and traditional storytelling.”
— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“Spectacularly accomplished and thrillingly suspenseful . . . a narrative of panoramic span. . . . Prodigiously researched, it resurrects place and period with riveting immediacy. Imagining, with corresponding fullness, not just its characters’ present predicaments but their pasts and futures, it brims with rich, involving and affecting humanity.”
— The Sunday Times


Praise for the work of DAVID MITCHELL:

"David Mitchell is a prodigiously daring and imaginative young writer. . . . As in the works of Thomas Pynchon and Herman Melville, one feels the roof of the narrative lifted off and oneself in thrall."
Time

"The always fresh and brilliant writing will carry readers back to their own childhoods. This enchanting novel makes us remember exactly what it was like."
The Boston Globe

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1745 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 481 pages
  • Editeur : Sceptre (13 mai 2010)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B003MVZP3Q
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (4 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°45.067 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)
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6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Wonderful historical novel by a superb writer 15 octobre 2010
Format:Broché
Shortly after its publication "The Economist" dismissed it, suggesting that once again David Mitchell had not fulfilled his promise despite a promising beginning and satisfying ending. But the reviewer failed to describe and qualify the richness of its almost 600 pages arranged into 5 parts and 41 chapters. Were they boring, were they bland? Poor judgment! The swish of the cane and the crack of the whip for this lazy reviewer.
In my humble opinion David Mitchell's tome of 600+ pages is a true masterpiece. It is based on solid research on 17th and 18th century Japan, on the history and final year of the VOC (Dutch East Asia Company), on the state of various sciences (economics, medicine, botany, pharmacology), on the art of diplomacy in Japan, and on the 150-year old history of Deshima (the VOC's trade post island linked to Nagasaki by a tightly-guarded stone bridge, the islet itself infiltrated and controlled by Japan's bureaucracy). It is also a love story, a triangle even between straight-laced Dutch VOC-clerk Jacob de Zoet, Japanese translator (3rd class) Uzaemon Ogawa, who are both about 26 years old and who both fancy the young, facially-disfigured but brilliant midwife Oriko, who aspires to become a surgeon.
The novel's length and contents suits the 18th or 19th century better than the 21st. After all, half of mankind is now constantly checking its mobile phones and other social networks for messages other than the release of a 600+ page novel. This awesome novel is about heavenly and earthly themes, such as fighting for or opposing traditions of science and religion, race and rank, high birth and low origins.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Tour de force 4 avril 2013
Format:Broché
J'ai ouvert ce livre, acheté un peu au hasard je l'avoue et l'univers décrit par D. Mitchell m'a véritablement fascinée : j'y ai découvert le Japon du XVIIIème siècle, ou plutôt les derniers soubresauts du comptoir hollandais des Indes Orientales (VOC) posé juste au bord de ce Japon cruel et mystérieux. Même si la langue extrêmement riche et le style foisonnant de Mitchell nous compliquent parfois un peu la tâche, la narration nous emporte totalement, comme un roman d'aventures bien ficelé , avec en prime une grande finesse psychologique et une documentation historique solide. Si vous cherchez un dépaysement de haute qualité, Jacob De Zoet vous attend !
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A portrait of culture and time 16 octobre 2013
Par Lea
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
A book I could read again and again. His subtleties and poetic prose describe every detail of a Japan hidden from the world, yet leave you feeling as if there is much more beneath the surface, just beyond reach. The cultural significance of this work have yet to be appropriately appreciated.
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2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A delightful read. Sorry to have finished so soon. 16 avril 2011
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Wow. I had a wonderful time with this. Captivating characters, extreme situations, how will it all come out. Not a disappointing ending either.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 étoiles sur 5  457 commentaires
578 internautes sur 602 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This novel succeeds on so many levels - A+ 28 avril 2010
Par sb-lynn - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

The story begins in the year 1799, and most of the action takes place on the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki, Japan. This is the farthest outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company and foreigners are kept restricted to the island. It's the only contact point between Japan and the West.

This epic tale starts out dramatically with a young midwife helping a Japananese magistrate's concubine with a difficult birth. The midwife is named Orito Aibagawa, and she has a disfiguring scar on one side of her face. With the support of her father she begins to study medicine under the tutelage of the brilliant Doctor Marinus.

After this dramatic opening, we are introduced to Jacob de Zoet, a young Dutch clerk who has just arrived in Dejima. Jacob is hoping to work for 5 years and make enough money to go home and marry his fiancee. He stands out not simply because he is so virtuous and decent, but also because of the color of his hair - bright red. Jacob will learn that his fellow merchants, supervisors and Japanese translators are not always to be trusted, and that things are not always as they appear.

Other important characters in this novel include Ogawa Uzaemon, an honorable young translator who faces a difficult moral dilemma. We meet high-ranking Japanese officials including Magistrate Shiroyama and the malevalent Lord Abbot Enomoto. In fact there is a huge cast of characters, many with their own fascinating backstories. And did I mention a thieving monkey named William Pitt?

This book is wonderful on so many levels. It succeeds as a rousing old-fashioned adventure tale with nail-biting scenes taking place on both land and at sea. It's also an amazing historical where we really are transported back in time and place and learn about Japanese custom and their relationship with the West. And it works as a romance novel, where we find ourselves rooting for both the safety of our protagonists and for their finding happiness and love.

But this is a David Mitchell novel, so we really don't know if that is going to happen, and there is palpable sense of anxiety and dread as we read further and further on in this magnificent story.

Like this author's previous novel, Cloud Atlas, it took me a while to get hooked. In fact, it took me quite a while. There are a lot of names to remember and it can get tough trying to keep everyone all sorted out. But by the second section (the book is divided into 5 parts), I could not put it down. In fact I am writing this review at 3am because I was simply unable to stop reading.

This book really is breathtaking and exceptional, and laugh out loud funny at times to boot. David Mitchell is one of my very favorite authors and I think he's so gifted and he has knocked my socks off, once again. If you find yourself struggling a bit through the first section of the book, don't give up. As with most novels by this author, this book is an ambitious undertaking and requires some work from the reader. But I promise you this turns into an absolute page-turner and at the end you will be rewarded by that wonderful reader's high that can only be experienced by reading the finest kind of novel.
145 internautes sur 158 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A History of Isolation 6 mai 2010
Par Roger Brunyate - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
This is quite simply the best historical novel I have read in years, Tolstoyan in its scope and moral perception, yet finely focused on a very particular place and time. The place: Dejima, a Dutch trading post on a man-made island in Nagasaki harbor that was for two centuries Japan's only window on the outside world. The time: a single year, 1799-1800, although here Mitchell takes the liberties of a novelist, compressing the events of a decade, including the decline of the Dutch East India Company and Napoleon's annexation of Holland, into a mere twelve months. He plays smaller tricks with time throughout the novel, actually, alternating between the Japanese calendar and the Gregorian one, then jumping forwards and backwards between chapters. The effect is to heighten the picture of two hermetic worlds removed from the normal course of history. One is Japan itself (the Thousand Autumns of the title), a strictly hierarchical feudal society, deliberately maintaining its isolation and culture. The other is the equally hierarchical society on Dejima itself, comprised of Dutch merchant officers, a polyglot collection of hands, and a few slaves, whose only contact with the outside world is the annual arrival of a ship from Java. To these, Mitchell adds two more hermetic worlds: an isolated mountain monastery in the second part of the book, and an English warship in the third. Without spoilers, I cannot reveal how these connect, but Mitchell's writing will carry you eagerly from one event to the next.

The author has the rare ability to work on three narrative scales simultaneously: small, medium, and large. He immerses the reader in local details -- particulars of language, culture, medical practice, philosophy and prejudice, commercial procedures, gambling, debauchery, and the capsule back-stories of the lesser characters. He will set up nail-biting situations that last a chapter or so, but introduce some twist that suddenly turns everything around at the end. And he arranges the book in three large parts, each of which ends with a transformative moral decision.

There is a large cast of of characters, whose plethora of exotic names can be confusing at first. But these crucial moments are associated with three or four who stand out for their human interest and moral dimension. Part I focuses on Jacob de Zoet (probably based on the real life Hendrik Doeff, who wrote a book about his experiences). He comes to Dejima as a lowly clerk, but he is smarter than the others, more genuinely interested in Japanese language and culture, and an incorruptible man in a nest of swindlers. Although by no means omnipresent, he serves as the commercial, political, and moral touchstone of the entire novel. Part II centers around two Japanese characters. One is the interpreter Ogawa Uzaemon, Jacob's principal link to the Japanese world; his formal reticence conceals secrets of his own. The other is Orito Aibagawa, a young midwife who already knows more than most doctors. Despite a disfiguring burn on one cheek, she has a beauty that is hard to resist. But her importance to the book is less as a figure of romance than as the center of a moral challenge that tests her (and indirectly Ogawa) to the utmost. Part III introduces the fourth touchstone character, the British naval captain John Penhaligon, whose decisions will prove pivotal as the book approaches its climax.

Those who know David Mitchell from CLOUD ATLAS will be aware of his stylistic virtuosity and his fondness for channeling popular genres ranging from the nineteenth-century adventure story to dystopian futurism. There are traces of many different styles here also, but amazingly they all fit into his account of a single place and time. There are no postmodern tricks; this is Mitchell's most straightforward novel to date. He does have a fondness for writing in short one-paragraph sentences of less than a line long, which makes some of the book look like blank verse, though it reads more like the rapid exchanges of a screenplay. Against this, he can produce set-pieces such as the opening of chapter 39, beginning thus: "Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike-topped walls and treble-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas, and dung-ripe stables..." And going on for a page and a half to end "...a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observed the blurred reflection of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. 'This world,' he thinks, 'contains one masterpiece, and that is itself'." And David Mitchell, in HIS masterpiece, gives us an entire world.
273 internautes sur 313 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Lively and entertaining--ephemeral 18 juin 2010
Par Thomas F. Dillingham - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
The confrontation between east and west, between xenophobic Japan and anyone from the outside world but especially Christian Europe, has generated many histories and history-based fictions. Among the best known is James Clavell's Shogun, and by far the best overall is Shusaku Endo's Silence. I mention these because the opening chapters of David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet instantly generate expectations based on those two novels, among others. The arrival of the young Jacob, a devout Christian, at the Dutch trading port of Dejima, adjacent to Nagasaki, is tense and threatening because he attempts to bring in a Psalter; if it is identified by the watchful Japanese officials, his least fate would be expulsion from Japan--but he might be subjected to far worse treatment. This begins Jacob's lengthy immersion in the stew of conflicting social and religious and cultural values that swirl in Dejima. In many ways, his worst conflicts are with his own countrymen, a variety of petty and sometimes grand thieves and swindlers whose frauds Jacob--an accountant who is assigned to bring the financial records of the Dutch East India post up to date and to some standard of honesty--inevitably is forced to reveal, with dire consequences because of the anger and hatred he generates when he undercuts the profitmaking schemes of the officers and employees of the shipping and trading companies.
Jacob de Zoet is an appealing character, and David Mitchell moves his story along vividly and energetically, filling in plenty of episodes and encounters that reveal both the traditional culture of Samurai-dominated Japan and the motives, both positive and venal, of the Europeans trying to break the barriers created by the Shoguns in order to develop the rich trading potential, and preferably to gain exclusive rights for those profits for their own nations' business interests. There is an ongoing romance of sorts, since Jacob is first attracted to and then falls deeply in love with a brilliant young Japanese woman, Orito Aibagawa, who is a medical student in the clinic of the expatriate Dr. Marinus, but who is subsequently kidnapped and confined to a nunnery run by what would now be described as a cult leader, a man devoted to a fairly horrific version of Shinto that involves abuse and murder in the name of a perverse religious dogma. De Zoet's encounters with these disparate characters, and his efforts to maintain his love and loyalty for his fiancé back home in Holland, complicate his life in many ways.
The disappointment of this novel, which may not bother most readers, is that none of the great issues it raises--the religious differences, cultural and moral conflicts, racial and ethnic divisions, even the sexual roles hinted at--is ever explored in depth. The narrative spins along, regularly providing excitement or cringing horror, often prompting laughter at various humorous events, and at many points it seems ready to go deeply into the moral dilemmas faced by many of the characters, most notably Jacob de Zoet, only to skip on by. We could say that it is a virtue of the novel that it allows the reader to make judgments and explore dilemmas, but that is merely an excuse, not an adequate defense against the suspicion that this is another novel written with the hope of a movie contract at the back of its mind. It's not bad--not bad at all. It's entertaining, engrossing, enjoyable. In other words, it is far more in the vein of the James Clavell novel mentioned earlier, than in the tradition of Endo's masterpiece.
24 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A warm coat for the winter 14 octobre 2010
Par Alfred J. Kwak - Publié sur Amazon.com
Shortly after its publication, "The Economist" dismissed it, suggesting that once again David Mitchell had not fulfilled his promise despite a promising beginning and satisfying ending. But the reviewer failed to describe and qualify the richness of its almost 600 pages arranged into 5 parts and 41 chapters. Were they boring, were they bland? Poor judgment! The swish of the cane and the crack of the whip for this lazy reviewer.
In my humble opinion David Mitchell's tome of 600+ pages is a true masterpiece. It is based on solid research on 17th and 18th century Japan, on the history and final year of the VOC (Dutch East Asia Company), on the state of various sciences (economics, medicine, botany, pharmacology), on the art of diplomacy in Japan, and on the 150-year old history of Deshima (the VOC's trade post island linked to Nagasaki by a tightly-guarded stone bridge, the islet itself infiltrated and controlled by Japan's bureaucracy). It is also a love story, a triangle even between straight-laced Dutch VOC-clerk Jacob de Zoet, Japanese translator (3rd class) Uzaemon Ogawa, who are both about 26 years old and who both fancy the young, facially-disfigured but brilliant midwife Oriko, who aspires to become a surgeon.
The novel's length and contents suits the 18th or 19th century better than the 21st. After all, half of mankind is now constantly checking its mobile phones and other social networks for messages other than the release of a 600+ page novel. This awesome novel is about heavenly and earthly themes, such as fighting for or opposing traditions of science and religion, race and rank, high birth and low origins. Its principal venues are 2 very small, tightly-controlled territories the size of a football field: Deshima and the secretive Buddhist convent of Shiranui, where a strange insemination cult is practiced and to which Oriko is abducted and kept against her will. At times this novel reminds of another masterpiece situated in confined space, Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose".
This well-guarded convent is situated high up in the mountains of a thinly populated district, several days travel from Nagasaki and controlled by the immortal and powerful Enomoto, wearer of many hats. Separately, Jacob and Uzaemon feel terrible about Oriko's fate. When they drop their formal ways of address and other protocols, they conspire to rescue her...
Most of DM's book is situated in 1799 and 1800, but eventually it ends in 1817. It is a rich product of fact and imagination and somehow it contains five or six books in one volume. DM's sheer joy of writing inspires every page. It introduces and follows a dozen or more truly interesting characters, infuses lots of intrigue and plenty of twists and turns for readers who enjoy spending a few weeks with a very inspired and warm piece of writing.

Purely by accident and only a month ago, I read the late Michael Chrichton's 2009 novel "Pirate Latitudes". A comparison between the two books is opportune but beyond the scope of this review.
David Mitchell's novel is highly recommended.
46 internautes sur 56 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 David, David, David... what on earth are you up to? 25 août 2010
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This novel starts off so beautifully, as a densely claustrophic and sensually imagined portrayal of life in the artificial and isolated Dutch trading settlement of Dejima, the only contact that Tokugawa Japan allowed itself with the outside world for over 200 years. The central character of Jacob is a believable everyman newcomer to the post: an upright and moral pastor's son, who soon becomes involved with what he honestly believes is a genuine attempt to root out corruption on Dejima. Of course, corruption is in Dejima's very essence and he soon finds his efforts are not necessarily all for the good. During this time, he meets a facially-scarred young Japanese woman, Aibagawa Orito, whose inner (and outer) beauty immediately affects Jacob, and he struggles inwardly with this desire and the promises he has made to a fiancee back home.

So far, so brilliant. There are passages of superb writing, believable characterisation, and the way in which Mitchell uses different British dialects and slangs to indicate the various Nederlandse regional idioms verges on the masterful. The love story is reserved and possibly even one-sided and imagined - as such things no doubt would have been in any non-commerical context in Japan at the time. There's no doubt David Mitchell is a writer of some class.

However, the book then collapses in an insane manner. There are already minor issues, for example, the young woman in question is a bit too unrealistically brilliant and pioneeringly feminist (in a very western style) to be entirely believable, but these minor criticisms pale into insignificance against the descent into the most ludicrous some-distance-below-James-Clavell-style orientalist pulp fantasy which follows. Jacob's paramour vanishes, and it turns out she has been sold to a sort of Fu Manchuesque villain who has psychic powers, eats babies to stay young and hides away in a remote mountain HQ where he forces unfortunate young women to breed these babies for he and his cohorts' evil rites. She must be rescued and a plucky translator, Uzaemon (himself in love with Orito), assembles a crack-squad of masterless samurai (ronin) to get her back... and so on into the absurdity of a role-playing game write-up, where even the quality of Mitchell's prose can't hide the stupidity of the plot.

Although the book tries to rescue itself with a gloomy coda back in the Netherlands, this fails to erase the gobsmacking ridiculousness of the excursion into the 'Dangerous and Unknown World of Ninjas and Inscrutable Villains!' or whatever Mitchell thinks he was doing. Maybe it was supposed to have a parodic element but it just doesn't work at all and undermines the whole book as a serious piece of writing. It isn't that you couldn't have a very well-written orientalist parody or a even an entirely well-written fantasy novel along these lines, but it's the disjuncture that fails here: in this context and coming after such a fine and well-imagined first half, the 'grand guignol' seems to be a failed attempt to have several cakes and eat them all. As such, it left me feeling rather sick and disappointed.
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