The stereo of fine historical fiction

David Mitchell, after writing his first historical novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, said that one of the great appeals of the genre is that it “delivers a stereo narrative: from one speaker comes the treble of the novel’s own plot while the other plays the bass of history’s plot.”  Well, I’m here to report that Mitchell rocked the joint.  With late 18th/early 19th century Nagasaki as its gorgeous stage populated with a thoroughly convincing cast of European and Japanese characters, some good, many rotten, Mitchell has written something rare—a page-turner with writing that is achingly lovely. At its core, it’s a love story surrounded by a tale of treachery and betrayal. And the story doesn’t resolve until…the…final…sentence.  A stereo narrative indeed—and I turned it way up, up to eleven.

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