30. ‘From The Fatherland, With Love’ by Ryu Murakami

29305_fatherlandI was browsing the internet when I came across ‘new release’ and ‘Murakami’ in the same sentence. Upon closer inspection it turned out that the writer was Ryu Murakami (not Haruki, as I’d excitedly assumed), and the book was set in a dystopian present day in which North Korea invades Japan. Well, that was enough for me! I asked the publisher, Pushkin Press, for a copy and they very kindly sent me one.

The book is ENORMOUS. It’s over 600 pages long and, in hardback, makes a pretty imposing brick on anybody’s bookshelf. Normally it’s the kind of thing I might have eyed warily from a distance and promised to come back to later. But no, this time I went for it, and I found myself speeding through it quite quickly.

Japan is in the midst of a severe economic downturn and the rest of the world has left the country to its fate. North Korea spots an opportunity to invade and sends an advance force of highly trained soldiers (the KEF), who immediately make camp between a hotel and a hospital so that the Japanese cannot attack for fear of collateral damage. More and more North Korean soldiers arrive and the incompetent Japanese government find themselves utterly unable to stop the invasion. Meanwhile, a group of anarchic Japanese young men, living on the fringes of society, decide to take matters into their own hands.

Essentially, this is a very simple story: it’s David and Goliath with modern weaponry. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hugely enjoyable. There are loads of great characters to get your teeth into (each with their own horrifically detailed tragic past) and plenty of action. The narrative perspective changes with every chapter, so you can always find something to identify with on both sides of the Japanese/Korean divide: one minute you’re seeing through the eyes of a terrifyingly patriotic KEF member, the next a disillusioned young man who only wants to create chaos.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the book was its unflinching realism. There are detailed, quite graphic descriptions about what guns and bombs really do to bodies. There are no artistic Hollywood shootouts here; the battles are vivid and gritty. If you’re squeamish, it’s probably one to avoid, but I found it fascinating.

This is a fantastically exciting book. It does drag in places, but not as often as you might expect for a book of this size. Definitely one to pick up if you’re into epic, action-packed reads.

“Madness lies within, but what we might call the essence of fellowship – the something that symbolises normality – is always floating around somewhere outside.”

If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?

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