Revisiting Dejima (Japan): From Recollections to Fiction in David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010)


This excerpt from a letter sent by Eiji, a Japanese teenager, to his mentally ill mother in Mitchell’s second novel, Number9dream (2001), already addressed the issue of cross exchanges between the West and the East. Though staged as an aside and embedded in a failed attempt at communication, it remains seminal in the history of Mitchell’s subtle treatment of cross-cultural issues, a recurring topic in his “house of fiction.” The passage showcases the violence hidden in the process of naming by contrasting the logic inherent to comparison – reducing the uncanny character of foreign elements while preserving their exotic appeal – and the illegitimacy of such an attitude. It is tempting to read this text through the lenses of post-colonial literature, since it does indeed call up ironical distanciation, because it reverses the Western point of view by adopting that of a Japanese native, and because it plays on this urge to recover a lost state of language.

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