In this Slow Life I rarely get the chance to read a novel but a long flight to Fukuoka with my eldest daughter Jo, who is going to study Japanese there, is the perfect opportunity to settle down to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. All 455 pages. The novel is set in Dajima, Nagasaki, 200 years ago when the Dutch occupied the only foreign trading post in Japan.
David Mitchell, who comes from Southport, embarked as a very young man on the same journey as Jo and ended up spending 8 years teaching in Hiroshima. This is his fifth novel and its easy to see why it was a number one best-seller last year. You don’t have to love Japan to love this book, but to those, like me, who do, its a riveting read. There are even some passages about gardening. Jacob de Zoet’s friend, Dr Marinus, is writing a Flora Japonica and studied under Professor Linnaeus. He says: “Great men are greatly complex beings. It’s true that Linnaean taxonomy underlies botany, but he taught also that swallows hibernate under lakes; that twelve foot giants thump about Patagonia; and that Hottentots are monorchids, possessing but a single testicle. They have two. I looked. “Deus creavit,” his motto ran, “Linnaeus disposuit” and dissenters were heretics whose careers must be crushed” Somehow, I don’t think I’d have picked that up from reading The Garden.