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On Historical Fiction

THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET by David Mitchell

by David Mitchell, acclaimed author of several novels, the latest of which is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011)

Around Christmas in 1994 in Nagasaki I got off at a wrong tram-stop and stumbled upon a greenish moat and cluster of warehouses from an earlier century.  This was my first encounter with Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s furthest-flung trading ‘factory’ and its most exclusive bragging point: during the two and a half centuries of Japan’s isolation, this man-made island in Nagasaki harbour, no bigger than Trafalgar Square, was the sole point of contact with the West.  Dejima went to seed after the Japanese opened up other ports to international trade from the 1850s onwards, but a full-scale reconstruction is now underway.  (No mean feat of engineering, this – reclamation projects have pushed the shoreline hundreds of yards away.)  Back in 1994 I wasn’t a published writer, but the place crackled with fictional potential, and twelve years later I begun to reconstruct Dejima myself in a book now published as The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  I didn’t set out to write an historical novel just for the heck of it – you’d have to be mad.  Rather, only within this genre could the book be written.  This being my first, I read a number of others to avoid reinventing wheels.  Small hope, but my reading led me to a new respect for a genre which Continue reading

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