Decima was a man-made islet in the port of Nagasaki in Japan. From 1641 to 1859, it was a Dutch trading post; the only contact between Japan and the Western world.
Around fifteen Dutchmen would live on Decima, under strict supervision of the Japanese authorities: a chief, a doctor, someone to supervise the storehouse, and a few employees.
The Dutch were not allowed to take their wives with them to Japan. Neither were they allowed to marry Japanese women. The children they begot by prostitutes were not allowed to leave the country, just like all other Japanese.
Christianity was strictly forbidden in Japan, as was entering the main land. Japanese people were not allowed to visit Decima either.
This is the narrow world in which Jacob de Zoet arrives with the assigment to check the books: the magistrates in Amsterdam suspect corruption. He apllies himself to it with the utmost diligence and uncovers quite a few irregularities – which does not bring him much favour among his direct colleagues.
He tries to befriend a Japanese interpreter and falls in love with a Japanese girl – a midwife being educated by the Dutch doctor. Both disappear without a trace. After weeks of insecurity, he receives some information that reveals what happened.
Jacob has found his mission and sets out to save the girl of his dreams.
David Mitchell has taken this bizarre piece of history and made it into an exciting story with great characters and fascinating information on the Japanese world of around 1800. He lived in Japan for years himself.