on 26 August 2013
This is worth reading for fans of Murakami. Very promising sounding storyline - N.Korean soldiers occupy a southern Japanese city and look set to take over the whole of the south island, Kyushu, while a band of damaged, dangerous and deranged adolescents watch from their hideout, initially in excitement, but then in anger and plan to take action after the government proves inadequate to the task. Has a lot of Murakami's hallmarks and a host of interesting characters. Unfortunately, it also has a much larger host of dull, inconsequential characters who do and add nothing. Murakami is at his best describing crazy kids doing crazy things. When it comes to describing government workers and the workings of government...well, it's just not him and it shows. The novel's also far too long - should've been edited down to about half its length, which could have made it into something great.
on 3 January 2014
Murakami's `From the Fatherland, With Love' is an action packed page turner. The detail on North Korea, weaponry, Japanese culture and much beside, is well researched and engaging.
The Japanese government and other world powers are pusillanimous, feeble and weak in dealing with the brutal North Korean invasion of Fukuoka. Societies constrained by the consideration of human rights lack the ruthlessness needed to deal with the KEF. Only a bunch of displaced Japanese psychos can match the KEF's brutality. We've been there before in human society. Murakami raises the spectre of a new mutation in social evolution returning us to the primacy of violent conquest where enlightened society is powerless and overthrown.
Based on the book blurb, From The Fatherland, With Love sounds like a standard by-the-numbers thriller, but that description couldn't be further from the truth. This novel features an alternate vision of the Earth where things are subtly different.
The brazen North Korean invasion-plan quickly gathers pace as the local authorities, rather ineffectually, run around like headless chickens allowing the Korean special forces to gain a foothold on Japanese soil. Things go from bad to worse as a second larger wave of troops arrive and the government still fails to take any action. Their inability to make any decisions allows the invaders to control the entire town of Fukuoka while awaiting the arrival of another one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers.
This situation results in some wonderfully dark moments, mostly due the serious culture clashes that exist between the two nations. The North Koreans, having spent a long time isolated from the rest of the world, are stunned by some of the things they see and experience when they first reach Japan. The outlandish lifestyles that they witness leave them all reeling.
"Many of the men and women looked vulgar, with hair dyed in the manner of Westerners, absorbing the effluence of decadent Western music, and consuming Western food and drink. There was even a man with an earring, as though he were a woman."
With the authorities at a loss, it's left up to a local collective of anarchists, led by a poet, to take matters into their own hands. This group is more than keen to take on the Koreans in their own inimitable style; think the Wolverines from Red Dawn with slightly more sociopathic tendencies.
The gang's leader, Ishihara is a bit of an enigma. Somewhere between an artist and prophet, he offers suggestions, passes comment but never actually does anything himself. He comes across as a bit of a figurehead. He's a surrogate father and the group all idolize him, hanging on his every word. It's the gang's members that really make this story, they're just so dark. All of them display varying degrees of insanity and personal quirks. My favourite characters were Shinohara who breeds frogs and insects, and takes more than a little delight in experimenting with their poisons. Also, there's Toyohara, who is rather fanatical about the samurai sword he inherited from his grandfather.
One thing that I did notice was that Murakami does seem a little obsessed with lists. In some scenes he details every single occupant of a room and their job titles. When there are twenty people in the room that can be off-putting. I found it strange, it felt a little jarring and made the narrative a bit disjointed.
Murakami goes into a lot of detail with his characterization, and you quickly realise that there are no topics which are out of bounds. To give an example, at one point an ex-gang member ponders the economic breakdown of Japan while sitting on a portable toilet. Now, I'll admit that when it comes to fiction that has got to be a first for me, and although it has a slightly surreal air, it actually works surprisingly well. The writing does veer off in some wonderfully bizarre directions, but is so good it always makes weird logical sense.
There are actually many moments when characters take time to ponder the situations that they find themselves in. There is an introspective quality to the writing and this gives the author the opportunity to really explore the human condition. From the Fatherland, With Love is essentially a study in chaos versus order. Both sides of this conflict act as cyphers for each concept, the chaotic Japanese gang members versus the strictly regimented North Koreans. As I said before this is far more than a standard thriller there are many layers and themes at work here.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this novel is ENORMOUS. It's nearly seven hundred pages long, hell it has a six pages at the beginning just detailing the cast. It's also physically BIG. If I had the choice I would definitely go for the electronic version over the hardback.
From the Fatherland, With Love is published by Pushkin Press and is available now. I won't lie to you, this novel is quite an undertaking but I found it largely entertaining. Surprisingly insightful, wonderfully quirky and more than a little bit mad, it's a modern epic that would be well worth any bibliophile's time.
The book has two main facets in my opinion - first of all, the concept, which is nothing short of spectacular; and then the execution, which tries to make as much use of the author's extensive research into the topic as possible, making the book something for the relatively dedicated.
The main premise - namely the occupation of Fukuoka by a 'rebel' North Korean army - is truly interesting. The author had to alter reality somewhat to make it more credible but the Japan of the book is not so far fetched as to immediately meet with resistance in a moderately well informed reader. Unemployment is up to about 10%, there is talk of rearming, relationships with the US and China are more strained and the savings have partially collapsed.
Into this environment the invasion is introduced. While the idea of it is excellent (like for example in Red Tide: The Chinese Invasion of Seattle (Occupied Seattle Book 1)), the execution does not lag behind in its quality, either (very unlike Red Tide: The Chinese Invasion of Seattle (Occupied Seattle Book 1)). The focus is much less on the military aspect than could be expected, even though the author spends long stretches covering the details of various armaments and the military organization. Instead, the author focuses much more intensively on the the mentalities of both the Japanese population under occupation, the Japanese government and the North Korean military - especially the occupying rebel army (in that sense it reminds me somewhat of the approach used in Peters' Red Army).
While some of the 'difficulties' of confronting such an insidious invasion may be particular to the Japanese, some soul searching is likely to lead the readers to questioning quite how well their society would deal with the situation. And the solution the author presents, is perhaps typical for him (and possibly more uniquely Japanese than the problem) - and the type likely to appeal to his fans.
Where the book is likely to turn off certain readers (as witnessed by some reviews) is the rather arcane and detailed descriptions the author engages in. There are a great number of characters (significantly over 50), all of whom get similar levels of attention, when it comes to introducing them and their back story. After a while even a dedicated reader may raise his eyebrows in contemplation, whether the full military career background for a minor soldier of the occupying forces truly adds to the story and its enjoyment.
And while a determined editor could cut out around 40% of the book's length and make it much more fast paced and action focused as a result, I believe the book would also suffer in its uniqueness, if such an approach was taken.
So overall a book definitely worth reading if you are a fan of the author, or just generally enjoy contemplating slightly left field alternative histories / scenarios. But do bring lots of patience to the task - if not, you may well give up half the way through.
on 8 June 2014
The plot is in equal parts absurd and chillingly plausible; the fallout from the economic crisis has well and truly shaken up the global political landscape, the dollar has completely collapsed, and it's a case of every country for himself. Japan is suffering a steep decline, effectively abandoned by former allies such as the USA. The country finds homelessness and unemployment on the rise, with vast expanses of land turned into shanty towns of citizens with nowhere else to go. Seeing an opportunity to profit from their neighbour's vulnerability, North Korea launches an invasion - initially a small band of highly trained officers take over Fukuoka baseball stadium, but before long troops have arrived in their thousands. There are small undercurrents of resistance among the local residents, but how can they stand a chance against the full weight of the North Korean army?
This is an incredibly complex book. Murakami has thoroughly explored the minutiae of this alarming situation from every aspect. We see the Japanese government as they bumble and panic to try and decide on a response to the situation that is neither too weak nor too offensive. We learn about the effects that the invasion has on small businesses, on healthcare provision, on the local media. I was amazed to realise how easy it might be for a bunch of crooks to take advantage of social security numbers and information held in goverment records to completely take over a community.
Perhaps the most interesting for me was to read about the attitudes and experiences of the North Korean soldiers on arriving in this alien environment. It was fascinating to consider how things we take for granted in a Westernised society might seem totally bizarre to an outsider. I'm not sure how realistic a picture Murakami has painted of life in North Korea - how much can we truly be sure lies behind the facade that they present to the rest of the world? - but it definitely made me pause for thought.
I really hope this doesn't make it sound like a dry political analysis because it most definitely isn't! One of the things I loved most about it was this feisty, punkish spirit behind the narrative. It's odd to describe it this way, because the premise is so disturbingly convincing and really just plain scary, but it is a fun book and Murakami's attention to quirky details repeatedly put a smile on my face. It is as fast-paced as a bestselling thriller in places, but precise and thoughtful in others. It has been a long time since I've read such an intelligent novel. I feel it's really shaken me out of a bit of a reading slump and put me in the mood to seek out more fresh, innovative stories.
on 20 September 2013
This book originally came out in Japan in 2005, placing the story in what would have been the near future, in a time of severe economic crisis, with the yen worth next to nothing, banks closed & both food & fuel in short supply. All this combines to leave Japan in a vulnerable state with it's close neighbours vying for dominance & it's one time allies unable or unwilling to help. Into this bleak picture steps an old enemy with a plan to invade, that is both as cunning in its set up as it is shocking in the simplicity in which it unfolds. North_Korea_Training_Exercise
Japan has become a nation whose time has passed, a place where camps for the unemployed and homeless are commonplace & living rough on the streets is the only reality for a growing number of the populace.
Into this scenario a force of highly trained & ruthless North Korean commandos easily infiltrate and take over control of the city of Fukuoka, setting up their own government with little resistance from the local population and often with help from self interested parties.
With the national government having no plans, no solutions and no idea who to blame, although that's not stopping them from trying to apportion it. With the government both local and central too scared to lift their heads out of their collective anuses, it is left to Murakami's Marauders, a disparate bunch of disaffected youth, social outcasts murderers, bombers & satanists to face the foe. This group under the leadership of Ishihara, an accomplished poet and winner of Kyushu Prefecture Cultural Award for Literary Excellence, decide that they will take on the North Koreans, they formulate a suitably diabolical plan, grab what weaponry they have stockpiled, within a short period of time slaughter and mayhem commences.
This as a book should come with a warning Not Recommended by the Japanese Tourist Board. No one comes out well, or to be more accurate the characters that one would feel most for, are the same ones that should be locked away from sight as not suitable, not fitting The Traditional Japanese Image (TM), in fact any image a nation would want to project concerning itself.
Earlier this year I read the other Murakami's (Haruki) books 1q84 and thought that it was an ambitious attempt to collate all of his ideas, themes & obsessions ( love, loneliness, surreal worlds, free will & religious cults) throughout his fiction and nonfiction into one grand expression, into one book. I also thought that although it was an epic effort - it was also a failure, that it didn't gel as a whole. I think that this idea also applies to Ryu Murakami, except From The Fatherland With Love succeeds, this book covers the usual areas of violence & technology, the divide between those that are excepted by and those society considers unwanted. It also shoves a great wedge between Japan's old martial/ traditional image and the reality of it's modern self, a nation that has not just lost it's way, but had no idea it had one. It also manages to chuck in another Ryu Murakami bugbear with references to Japan's reliance for protection on the USA.
The difference between From The Fatherland With Love, and 1q84 I believe is that Ryu Murakami's book works as a whole where 1q84 didn't. Ryu Murakami has created in this book a wonderful cast of characters in a tale that rollicks along with all the mayhem, violence & action one expects from a Ryu Murakami book & yet he still manages to gel his vision, still manages to get his world view down on the page & into the reader.
on 18 June 2013
This is a large novel with a forbidding cast of characters at the beginning which mustn't put you off for characterisation is the key here. Although this seems like a book with a serious political message at times and like weapon-porn at others, it is just a great story of the personal experiences of many put in an unusual situation.
From the Fatherland With Love is a vast novel (664 pages), written on an epic scale, an alternative reality novel describing the events surrounding the invasion of and economically bankrupt Japan by an opportunistic North Korea.
The year is 2010, but things are not quite how they are in today's world. Japan has gone into serious economic decline and nation can no longer afford social care, resulting in vast shanty towns constructed in city-parks. The public sector is the only employer offering real jobs, but security guards have to protect government workers from demonstrating crowds of less fortunate citizens. Criminal gangs are rife and the black-market flourishes.
The rest of the world has responded to the economic crisis by retreating into isolationism. America has a vast financial deficit and can no longer afford to act as the world's policeman. Instead it is pushing for security agreements with East Asian countries, even North Korea. Europe is concerned only with it's own boundaries and China and Russia no longer want to get involved with other nation's problems. Japan is effectively abandoned to its fate.
Seeing an opportunity to get revenge on its old enemy Japan, the North Korean government launch an audacious plot to invade Japan with a force of 150,000 troops, establishing a colony at least, possibly a complete take-over.
The novel focuses on several locations, each with its own cast of characters. In Tokyo we have groups of government ministers and crisis managers. In North Korea we meet senior party officials then travel with advance team commandos and expeditionary forces as they launch their invasion. The area of Japan targeted by the North Koreans is in and around the city of Fukuoka and here we engage with local government and media, a medical centre, various criminals and a renegade gang of Japanese youths who plan an elaborate counter-attack in response to the horrific events which happen on their territory.
Needless to say the book is at times brutal detailing for example interrogation sessions and fairly horrific criminal activity. But the brutality always appears in the context of the complex plot and it would be unrealistic of Murakami to gloss over the results of a military invasion being countered by a rebel rag-tag army.
This is a compelling and shocking read. During the 20th century we saw what happened when nations fell apart after world wars and revolutions, but there is something particularly disturbing about seeing what happens when the structures of the modern world fall apart because of firstly economic collapse and secondly a cruel invading force. Murkami writes at both the macro level (governments, miliatary leaders) and also at the micro level (citizens, health-care workers, criminal opportunists). He makes his vast cast of characters come alive on the page and as a reader I found myself swept along as the terrible plans of North Korea unfolded on the page.
This is altogether a fantastic read which presents a possible future which seems all too plausible in its effects if not the exact detail.
on 13 August 2013
A brilliantly original and thrilling book, brutal and shocking at times but always riveting. For anyone with an interest in politics and war history, you'd be as mad as a box of poisonous frogs to miss it!
on 8 December 2015
Quick delivery great product