David Mitchell · 479 pages
Rating: (44.5K votes)
“Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike topped walls and treble-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas and dung-ripe stables; circle over towers and cavernous bells and over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells, watched by mule-drivers, mules and wolf-snouted dogs, ignored by hunch-backed makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nakashima River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed form kitchen doors, watched by farmers walking high, stony ridges. Gulls fly through clouds of steam from laundries' vats; over kites unthreading corpses of cats; over scholars glimpsing truth in fragile patterns; over bath-house adulterers, heartbroken slatterns; fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs; their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs; woodcutters' sons sharpening axes; candle-makers, rolling waxes; flint-eyed officials milking taxes; etiolated lacquerers; mottle-skinned dyers; imprecise soothsayers; unblinking liars; weavers of mats; cutters of rushes; ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes; booksellers ruined by unsold books; ladies-in-waiting; tasters; dressers; filching page-boys; runny-nosed cooks; sunless attic nooks where seamstresses prick calloused fingers; limping malingerers; swineherds; swindlers; lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses; heard-it-all creditors tightening nooses; prisoners haunted by happier lives and ageing rakes by other men's wives; skeletal tutors goaded to fits; firemen-turned-looters when occasion permits; tongue-tied witnesses; purchased judges; mothers-in-law nurturing briars and grudges; apothecaries grinding powders with mortars; palanquins carrying not-yet-wed daughters; silent nuns; nine-year-old whores; the once-were-beautiful gnawed by sores; statues of Jizo anointed with posies; syphilitics sneezing through rotted-off noses; potters; barbers; hawkers of oil; tanners; cutlers; carters of night-soil; gate-keepers; bee-keepers; blacksmiths and drapers; torturers; wet-nurses; perjurers; cut-purses; the newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant; the ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant; over the roof of a painter withdrawn first from the world, then his family, and down into a masterpiece that has, in the end, withdrawn from its creator; and around again, where their flight began, over the balcony of the Room of Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle from last night's rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.”
“The truth of a myth...is not in its words but its patterns.”
“The soul is a verb." He impales a lit candle on a spike. "Not a noun.”
“Creation never ceased on the sixth evening, it occurs to the young man. Creation unfolds around us, despite us and through us at the speed of days and nights. And we call it love.”
“So little is actually worthy of belief or disbelief. Better to strive to coexist than seek to disapprove . . .”
“If only,’ Shiroyama dreams, ‘human beings were not masks behind masks behind masks. If only this world was a clean board of lines and intersections. If only time was a sequence of considered moves and not a chaos of slippages and blunders.”
“Creation unfolds, around us, despite us and through us, at the speed of days and nights, and we like to call it "love”
“This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.”
“Act, implores the Ghost of Future Regret. I shan't give you another chance.”
“The mind has a mind of its own. It shows us pictures. Pictures of the past and the might-one-day-be. This mind's mind exerts its own will, too, and has its own voice.”
“How gleefully life shreds our well crafted plans.”
“For white men, to live is to own, or to try to own more, or to die trying to own more. Their appetites are astonishing! They own wardrobes, slaves, carriages, houses, warehouses, and ships. They own ports, cities, plantations, valleys, mountains, chains of islands. They own this world, its jungles, its skies, and its seas. Yet they complain that Dejima is a prison. They complain they are not free.”
“The soul is a verb. . . . Not a noun.”
“The music provokes a sharp longing the music soothes.”
“Act', implores the Ghost of Future Regret. 'I shan't give you another chance'. [and so Jacob does] 'Damned fool,' groans the Demon of Present Regret. 'What have you done?”
“Self pity, Orito reminds herself yet again, is a noose dangling from a rafter.”
“Naming, thinks Jacob, even in ridicule, gives what is named substance.”
“Don't let death, Jacob reproves himself, be your final thought.”
“What man ain't the honestest cove in his own eyes?" Grote's round face is a bronze moon in the dark. "'Tain't good intentions what paves the road to hell: it's self-justifyin's.”
“I could tell you a hundred things, thinks Jacob, and nothing at all.”
“The rain's innumerable hooves spatter on the streets and roofs.”
“The clock’s pendulum catches the firelight, and in the rattle-breathed final moments of Jacob de Zoet, amber shadows in the far corner coagulate into a woman’s form.
She slips between the bigger, taller onlookers unnoticed …
… and adjusts her headscarf, the better to hide her burn.
She places her cool palms on Jacob’s fever-glazed face.
Jacob sees himself, when he was young, in her narrow eyes.
Her lips touch the place between his eyebrows.
A well-waxed paper door slides open.”
“We were, to quote the proverb,
"The one dog who barks at nothing answered by a thousand dogs barking at something...”
“I find a certain comfort," confesses Marinus, "in humanity's helplessness.”
“Dust is gold in the light of dawn.”
“Killing depends on circumstances, as you'd expect, whether it's a cold, planned murder, or a hot death in a fight, or inspired by honor or a more shameful motive. However many times you kill, though, it's the first that matters. It's a man's first blood that banishes him from the world of the ordinary.”
“Loyalty looks simple... but it ain't.”
“I failed math twice, never fully grasping probability theory. I mean, first off, who cares if you pick a black ball or a white ball out of the bag? And second, if you’re bent over about the color, don’t leave it to chance. Look in the damn bag and pick the color you want.”
“Not a wall in the building lacked books. Books even occupied the space above doorways.”
“With a deep regret, I wiggled out from under him despite his sleepy protests and grabbed articles of clothing as I tiptoed to his door. What amazing willpower I had. What fantastic self-control. I'd come over for one reason, and everything but that reason seemed to be resolved. When I reached the door, I saw what looked like another note. But this was his door, not mine. I peeled it off, then angled it until I could read it by the light of the fire.
Is that all you've got?
With a smile spreading slowly across my face, I dropped everything I'd just picked up and went back for more.”
“Becky, if I had to wait five years, then I would. Or eight -- or even ten." He pauses, and there's complete silence except for a tiny gust of wind, blowing confetti about the churchyard. "But I hope that one day -- preferably rather sooner than that -- you'll do me the honor of marrying me?”
“She could only wait. But she was not idle while she waited, because she was holding herself in readiness for whatever it was that she would have to do. She was trying not to be frightened in her mind, and she found that that sort of waiting and thinking really keep a person quite busy.”
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