This is a marvelous historical novel about Japan in the early 1800's when they were an isolated country, by their own choice. Only the Dutch were allowed to trade with Japan and they were confined to a small port in Nagasaki. Jacob de Zoet arrives to make his fortune in a corrupt world of trade. He tries to be honest and ethical in his dealings, but is punished for it. He is left in Japan for 20 years as a result. Jacob falls in love with a Japanese woman with a burned face. There are horrific consequences to Jacob revealing his feelings. Those consequences take place in the middle of the book. This is the most intriguing and interesting part of the novel. There are so many characters in the beginning of the book that it is hard to keep in mind who is who. It is made more difficult by many of the names being Dutch or Japanese. Gradually, the characters develop their own identities. However, the beginning of the book can be confusing and challenging. I would advise anyone who doesn't like the first 100 pages not to give up. The book will soon transform you into a different world filled with beauty, filth, revenge, and horror.