What about Joseph Conrad?
His story “Youth” has this beautiful passage about your first landfall in Asia and how it haunts you for the rest of your life—everything is downhill afterward. There’s something of that in the end of Thousand Autumns. We all romanticize our youth, but when East Asia is intertwined with youth, the wistfulness and the sense of loss are amplified—for reasons which Edward Said might have scorned, and who knows, maybe justifiably. But Conrad wasn’t lying about what he felt, and neither am I, so perhaps we just have to take the flak.
Just been to see David Mitchell read from his new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet at Shoreditch House.
Readings are always a little weird, bits of text disenfranchised from their home-novel, and the author never seems to know whether to show literary firepower with big bits of description or to create motion with some dialogue; whether to play it all for laughs or not, if they should commentate as they go along.
But these are difficulties inherent to the form and it doesn’t stop readings from being enjoyable, particularly as in this case, I’m a big fan, Mitchell’s a great writer and Deijima is a great setting.
Couple of interesting points from the Q&A afterwards:
On why he’s going back to Japan now:
Mitchell stumbled upon a Dejima museum in Nagasaki in 1996 because he “couldn’t read the street signs.” Writers he said, in a lovely similie, have a “Geiger counter built in that goes off when you’re around good material.”
Interesting settings and ideas are saved; they “circle like planes waiting to land at Heathrow… [and] it was time to bring this one in to land.”
Great image, no wonder people were applauding.
On the way characters from his previous books appear in later ones:
“I think of it like the dole, the DSS. There’s this room where the old characters wait, looking for work… So I go in there and see if there’s anyone who can do the job.”
So well put. He also revealed the next novel he’s writing is set in the present day and features, in some way, a character from Thousand Autumns.
Can’t wait for the book itself – it’s out in May.
(Bear in mind I was there for fun, not taking proper notes, so the above is paraphrased).
[Book] How could it not be? The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is the new one from David Mitchell, my favourite living author. It sees Mitchell’s fiction returning to Japan – site of the many of the stories in his first book, Ghostwritten, and a place that helped shape him as a writer:
“In 1799 the young Dutch clerk of the title finds himself one of the few westerners to visit Japan, a closed society that keeps its foreigners confined to a walled island.”
Amazon doesn’t yet have the cover of the book, but preview copies have been doing the rounds, and you can see it here, along with a positive early review from Seth Marko:
“I don’t want to post a full-on review, filled with information that will ruin things for anyone interested, but I did finish reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet last night. Holy shit, what a book. All I will say at this point is this: it does not have the complex, head-exploding machinations of some of Mitchell’s past work (Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas esp.) but it does prove that Mitchell has been no fluke – his burgeoning talent has hit full stride at this point and Autumns showcases his immense ability to write in any genre he chooses and blow your socks off in the process… There are multiple narrators throughout, as is Mitchell’s wont, but it is structurally done in such a subtle way that you hardly notice – you are just swept along in the flow, wondering, as a foreigner like Jacob, how much of the lush, inner world of Japan you will be allowed to glimpse. My god, if this book isn’t the one that earns him that elusive Booker prize…”