David Mitchell took a 180-degree turn from Cloud Atlas to write this straight-ahead historic novel that takes place around 1800 in Nagasaki.
In the harbor lies Japan’s only outpost for foreigners: a virtual prison island for the Dutch traders there. Each culture fears, mistrusts, and exploits the other while a few individuals create understanding and connections. Jacob de Zoet is a naïve, idealistic, scholarly young clerk who falls victim to the intrigues of both the colorful westerners on the island and the at-first-inscrutable Japanese court. His fascination with and sympathy for the Japanese language and Japanese culture lead to predictable and not-so-predictable consequences, but the middle of the book, set in the interior of the country, is anything but predictable.
Though it owes a bit to gothic sensibilities and samurai movies, it’s a chilling, convincing indictment of power and corruption.