A Smaller Island

Matthew Reynolds

  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
    Sceptre, 469 pp, £18.99, May 2010, ISBN 978 0 340 92156 2

David Mitchell’s new novel is set on and around an artificial island called Dejima, constructed in the bay of Nagasaki to house representatives of the Vereenigde Oest-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company), the sole official conduit for European trade with Japan during almost all of the rule of the Tokugawa Shoguns (1603-1867). Dejima is tiny: ‘two hundred paces along its outer curve … by 80 paces deep’ containing ‘some 25 roofs’. It is both connected to and separated from the mainland by a gated bridge: the Dutch are allowed to cross, but only rarely.

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