Review: From the Fatherland With Love – Ryu Murakami

murukamiFrom 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.  It’s author, Ryu Murakami, wrote the book in 2005 when the Japanese economy had gone into decline.  By setting the book just a few years in the future, he offered his public a vision of a dystopian future close at hand and which seemed at the time (and perhaps still is) all too plausible.  Here and there we can see that elements of Murakami’s vision have actually come to pass, not in Japan perhaps, but certainly in Greece and Cyprus.

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  The banks have implemented stringent controls on how much money can be withdrawn from cash machines and sales tax has soared.  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 a non-aggression pact with North Korea. Europe is concerned only with its 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 Fukuoka, one of Japan’s lesser cities, with a force of 150,000 troops, establishing a colony at least, possibly a complete take-over.  When the invasion comes, it seems remarkably old-tech, but the commitment and professionalism of the North Koreans make it immediately effective.  A fleet of ancient bi-planes flies into Japanese airspace and lands on an abandoned air-field.  hundreds of highly trained North Korean commandos stream off the plane and immediately fan out around Fukuoka treating any opposition with cruelty and ruthlessness.  Murakami captures the complete helplessness and un-preparedness of the Japanese population in the face of these automaton-like invaders.

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Ryu Murakami

Initially the invaders seem content to establish a base on the edge of the city and invite the city’s mayor and other officials to a bizarre reception, inviting the officials to join a “Master Plan for Harmonious Government”.  At this point, Fukuoka’s Chief of Police is dragged in, evidently having been terribly injured at the hands of the North Korean troops, a clear warning to anyone who is unsure about what will happen to those who refuse to accept the Master Plan.

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. In the area of Japan targeted by the North Koreans in and around the city of Fukuoka 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 barbaric prison conditions and interrogation sessions. But the brutality always appears in the context of the complex plot and it would be unrealistic of Murakami to gloss over the outcome of a military invasion when it is countered by a rebel rag-tag army.

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Fukuoka

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, military 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 the North Koreans unfolded on the page.

It is a long time since I read anything like this and while at first glance it appears to be a sort of fantasy war novel, I suspect that Murakami had a very serious purpose in writing it, perhaps a sort of prophetic warning of what can happen when a nation allows economic decline to eat away at the structure and values of society.

At the start of the book, Murakami explains how Japan has got into such a poor state by putting his characters through some slightly contrived conversations for the benefit of his readers.  However he soon gains pace and once the scene is set the novel  moves into a fast-moving drama involving a well-assembled and convincing cast of characters. This is a very clever novel by a very able writer who has been able to control all the elements of the story, keeping them moving forward at a fast pace equal to the cataclysmic events described.

10 comments to Review: From the Fatherland With Love – Ryu Murakami

  • I’ve just finished ‘Popular Hits of the Showa Era’, and while that was fun (and completely nuts!), I think I’d like to get my teeth into this one, as it seems a little more substantial.

  • Sounds deliciously odd and imaginative. I tend to really like stories that have absurd elements to the plot.

    I actually have thought about this a bit in the last year or so. I want to say that modern democratic post industrial nation has never really fallen completely apart – yet . Hopefully it will never happen.

  • I just read about Japan’s brutal invasion and occupation of Korea during World War II. Neither South or North Korea probably has very friendly feelings toward Japan.
    Is Ryu the brother of Haruki Murakami?

  • Will be reading this fairly soon, so will return & compare thoughts, if you’d like to try another book by this wonderful author I can recommend Almost transparent blue,which I believe was his first.

  • me.

    Currently working my way through this, so far enjoying it, although I’m waiting for things to turn ugly(er) as a friend of mine who has already read it pre-warned me that it’s another of Murakami’s books not for the squeamish.

  • nihondistractions – thanks for visiting. You have a fascinating website on Japanese literature. Yes, this one does get uglier but it didn’t seem worse than many other books I have read

  • Hi Parrish. Thanks for visiting. I was aware as I wrote this review that I wasn’t really doing it justice and I’ll be very interested to read your thoughts on this one.

  • Hi Tony – no relation I think. One of the most horrific books I struggled through was The Rape of Nanking about what the Japanese did in china. No doubt there are many unsettled scores

  • The other Murakami is a writer I have yet to try but as this is so long I can see me starting with a shorter one .Although the themes in this seem timely ,all the best stu

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