DAVID Mitchell has set his latest novel The thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet in the background of late 18th century Japan, when the western countries were running East Indies companies in Asia. Nagasaki was the port for boarding and alighting. The hero of the novel Jacob de Zoet is the middle level official of the Dutch East Indies Company. Zoet catches sight of a woman whom he first takes for a pleasure girl, but later learns that she is a mid-wife, learning to become doctor. He is fascinated by her but is unable to make contact because the local customs prohibit it. He manages an audience with her using a senior male doctor. One day, sitting on a high fort wall he witnesses her being kidnapped by a few people. The kidnappers belong to a cult which buys women, mostly prostitutes and uses them in rituals for the ‘salvation.’ The cult quarters cannot be reached by anyone and if one does, they are not allowed to come back.
The heroine of the novel Aibagawa is a strong woman and resists the men in the cult from pushing her into the ritual. Aibagawa is rumoured to possess powers as she brought life to a still-born child. She plots her escape from the confinement but abandons her attempt when she remembers the women who were suffering there and who required her help in deliveries. By sheer courage and ingenuity, she sends a message to the world outside through the provision supplier. A young man, who has loved her always decides to come to her rescue only to be killed by the cult goons. Her message reaches Zoet who reads Japanese with difficulty. He takes up the issue and the powerful cult leader is finally brought to book and the captives are released. But by then, its time for Zoet to move on. He leaves for his home.
The thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a novel woven in many layers, demanding from the reader time and effort. It is not for a casual reader.
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