The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
By David Mitchell
Narrated by Johnathan Aris & Paula Wilcox
This audio book misses the mark of great story telling. Johnathan Aris and Paula Wilcox do a good job of narrating the story but David Mitchell fails to develop characters or a theme that sparks much interest in the listener.
There is little romantic chemistry felt by the listener when Jacob de Zoet, the hero, expresses his love for Orito Aibagawa, the heroine. The listener feels she is de Zoet’s interest not his passion. This may be consistent with Mitchell’s characterization of the hero but it detracts from the entertainment value of the story.
Jacob de Zoet is a formulaic hero that fails to reach a listener’s heart. He is a Dutch auditor with impeccable inner direction and honesty but few heroic fighting qualities. This Dutch hero’s heroic stand against a British man-of-war may enrich history but it beggars fictional enjoyment of a poorly told unrequited love story.
Mitchell breaks no new ground in this historical fiction. The story of Japan’s isolation and singular culture is better told by Clavell in “Shogun”. Clavell’s hero, though equally formulaic, successfully cracks the harsh Japanese culture in a more emotive and entertaining story.
Mitchell creates a dastardly villain that imprisons Orito Aibagawa in a monastery but the villain’s comeuppance is pedestrian. The villain is interesting but he could have been more fully developed. After all, the villain could kill butterflies with a wave of his hand. The confrontations between de Zoet and the villain are too indirect. The agent of the villain’s demise is contrived more than integrated into a progression of the story.
The best character development done by Mitchell is with Dr. Marinus, a cranky, highly intelligent physician, ahead of his time. But the role Marinus plays is minor in respect to the poorly defined thread of the story.
Incidents are injected into the story at the last minute with a feeling of listener manipulation rather than enlightenment. An English captain, near the end of the story, is described as having had a son killed in the war that reminded him of de Zoet. This memory kept the captain from killing de Zoet when he had the chance.
The book ends with narrative explanation that reveals the hero’s failure as a lover, father, and husband, a disappointing dénouement. This book is a fair listen but not worthy of high praise.