The Englishman David Mitchell is the author of five lauded-to-worshiped novels, most famously Cloud Atlas, a brilliantly interwoven sextet of stylistically disparate novellas. His just-released The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Random House) is more conventional but just as ambitious as his earlier work: a long (sometimes slow), painstakingly researched historical novel set in Japan at the turn of the 19th century. Its hero is an upstanding clerk for the declining Dutch East Indies Company charged with sorting out years of cooked accounting books on the trading island of Dejima. The battle against corruption, however, proves Sisyphean. More problematically, Jacob (engaged back home in Holland) falls in love with a well-born midwife and finds himself at odds with increasingly imposing forces. There's a lot of plot to sink into, and a lot of inspired, mood-setting prose: "A candlestick hops in dithyrambic circles," for instance, or "Night insects trill, rick, bore, ring; drill, price, saw, sting."
Mon., July 19, 7 p.m., 2010