The Sounds and the Smells of Forbidden Japan
from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetJust a couple of comments that are going to sound more negative than intended. As I read the first sentence I wondered, did he smell these smells sequentially in his progress from dockside to his final destination? Or, did he smell them all at once and separate these into component smells? Also, what quantities of rice must have been cooking to be in the open air and smell steamed rice--a subtle scent in a confined space like a kitchen--especially when in juxtapostion against sewage, incense, and the rough iodiny smell of rotting seaweed.
Through the palanquin's grille, he smells steamed rice, sewage, incense, lemons, sawdust, yeast, and rotting seaweed. He glimpses gnarled old women, pocked monks, unmarried girls with blackened teeth. Would that I had a sketchbook, the foreigner things, and three days ashore to fill it. Children on a mud wall make owl-eyes with their forefingers and thumbs, chanting 'Oranda-me, Oranda-me, Oranda-me': Jacob realizes they are impersonating 'round' European eyes and remembers a string of urchins following a Chinaman in London: the urchins pulled their eyes into narrow slants and sang 'Chinese, Siamese, if you please, Japanese.'
The second comment centers around anachronism. Does it make sense that children in 18th century England would know enough about China, Siam, and Japan to have a rhyme regarding them? It certainly is possible--I suppose, but it is one of those things that make me itch to find some confirmation, so historical source that records such a verse.
As said before, these sound negative. But they aren't really. The world is sufficiently rich and fascinating to encourage the reader to pause, savor, and ask these questions. And ultimately they may weave together into a work that is both fascinating and reflective. As I continue, I'll keep you posted. Perhaps, as you may have discovered ad nauseam.