I’d read a couple of Mitchell’s books many years ago, and it wasn’t until I picked this one up, looking for some transport reading that I realised (given its Japanese subject-matter) I was predisposed to liking it. The enjoyment it’s given has me kicking myself at leaving it on the shelf until now.
The four years of research required to create the book are well-spent; the historical verisimilitude is pretty much untouchable. Precision of detail is paramount, though it’s not forced down the reader’s throat. The Sakoku era – when foreign contact was forbidden, only ended with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s ‘Black Ships’ – is faithfully rendered. The outpost of Dejima – the only place trade was available, near Nagasaki – is brought to life without the distancing one usually finds in novels writing about the past. Some of the island’s denizens are a little more stereotypical than you’d imagine – especially the wanking monkey named after William Pitt – but nothing breaks the mood. (more…)