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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet Reader’s Guide

By David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. David Mitchell once stated that his “intention is to write a bicultural novel, where Japanese perspectives are given an equal weight to Dutch/European perspectives.” Do you believe he accomplished this goal in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet? How do you think the perspectives of each culture are portrayed, and are they given equal treatment?
2. Jacob de Zoet is an honest, pious man, and has a difficult time coping with the corruption around him on Dejima. Discuss the significance of the psalter, and the impacts of his decision to smuggle it onto the island.

3. One theme of the novel is the power of language — how does it play into both authority and corruption in the interaction between Dutch and Japanese cultures?
4. Alternatively, how do instances of common language unite characters in the novel?
5. Vorstenbosch tells Jacob that “the orient is all about signals.” Discuss various mixed signals and miscommunications in the novel and their effects.
6. What are your expectations of historical fiction? How do you think this book aligns and diverges with projected notions of the genre?
7. Speaking of genre, what others genres do you see influencing this novel?  What does the novel change in each part?
8. The novel is peopled with dozens of fascinating secondary and tertiary characters.  Who is your favorite and why?
9. Discuss the concept of isolationism and how the novel’s various settings and landscapes reflect it.
10. If you were to land in Dejima in 1799, what would be the first thing you would do?

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