These days author David Mitchell is best known for Cloud Atlas, but I’ve loved his work ever since I impulsively picked up his first novel, Ghostwritten, back in high school. His most recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, contains Mitchell’s trademark deftness with details and interlocking narratives but what really makes this story so impressive is the staggering level of historical accuracy. The world is so real, it’s impossible not to be completely enveloped by it. And the characters are so human, they feel like old friends before you’re halfway through.
Much of the novel takes place on Dejima, a small fan-shaped artificial island built in the bay of Nagasaki in 1634, which was the only place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world during the Edo period. It was used primarily as a trading post by the Dutch until 1853 and the story is set at the very beginning of Holland’s decline in power. It follows three young protagonists: the titular Jacob de Zoet, a Christian Dutchman who has come to Japan with the Dutch East India Company to earn his fortune and win the approval of his fiancée’s father; Uzaemon Ogawa, a Japanese upper-class translator who becomes Jacob’s confidant; and Orito Aibagawa, a spirited and talented midwife with a burn on her face.
Years ago Uzaemon was forbidden to marry Orito by his stern father and he now watches as an unwitting Jacob grows increasingly infatuated with her. Unfortunately her skill with midwifery also catches the attention of the dangerous and powerful local magistrate, who whisks her away to a secretive, cult-like monastery in the mountains. Though the story is at its heart a simple one—two men in love with the same woman try to rescue her from a villain—the intricately constructed world, the accurate yet poetic descriptions of history, and the vivid characters elevate this far beyond a mere romance story.
Mitchell seamlessly alternates between the protagonists’ starkly different perspectives: Jacob’s pious, well-meaning but often clumsy standpoint; Ogawa’s careful balance of personal desires and societal demands; and Orito’s feminine strength and fierce will to survive. The author paints rich pictures of both Dutch and Japanese interpretations of the state of the world in the 18th century, which means one thing: fusion recipe. And since Mitchell doesn’t skimp on the tiny details, I thought something that required a bit of finesse was in order. Dejima was built to constrain foreign traders as part of Japan’s self-imposed isolationist policy, and this recipe delightfully mimics that concept by constraining European sausages in Asian ingredients: wasabi and spring onion.
WASABI COCKTAIL SAUSAGES
Serves 2 - 4
- 2 thin sausages (around 5 inches in length)
- 4 strips of bacon
- 2 spring onions
- 1 tablespoon wasabi
- 1 lemon, to garnish
Coat each strip of bacon with a quarter tablespoon of wasabi on each size. Cooking will make the wasabi flavor milder.
Trim spring onions to same length as sausages.
Line up one sausage with one spring onion, then wrap top-to-bottom with two strips of bacon, using wasabi as an adherent.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan. You won't need much since bacon produces a lot of grease as it cooks.
Fry bacon-wrapped sausages over medium heat, keeping loose end of the bacon at the bottom.
Once loose end of the bacon wrap has browned, start turning sausages until they are browned all over.
Lower heat, place lid on the pan and cook sausages for about 5 minutes or until cooked through.
Remove sausages and dab with paper towel. Cut into bite size pieces and squeeze lemon juice over the top.
Via Yuraki Elliott