vPushkin Press, £20 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Book review: From the Fatherland, With Love, By Ryu Murakami, trans. Ralph McCarthy, Charles de Wolf and Ginny Tapley Takemori

A resonant and timely 'procedural thriller' on a fictional invasion by North Korea

The "other" Murakami – Ryu, rather than the marginally older Haruki – is best known in the UK for short, sharp novels like In The Miso Soup and Audition, books that dig away at a contemporary Japanese culture obsessed with youth, sex and violence, and familiar to us through manga, anime and horror films.

Get money off this title at the Independent book shop

From The Fatherland, With Love is a rather different proposition, a long and closely-written narrative about a fictional North Korean invasion of the Japanese island of Kyushu, in April 2011. It runs to over 600 pages, with multiple prologues, introductions and epilogues, and a six-page list of principal characters – the kind of thing you might expect from Tom Clancy or Frederick Forsyth. Indeed, it might best be described as a procedural thriller, with as much time spent on detailing events inside the military and government machines on both sides as on explosive action sequences, though there are those too.

With a belligerent North Korea in the news – a regime that would be funny if it weren't so scary, if not vice versa – the book (first published in 2005) might seem particularly timely. In Murakami's then speculative, now counter-factual fiction, Japan is ripe for attack after a near-total economic collapse leaves it spurned on the global stage. The invasion strategy is simple. First a squad of ten crack soldiers take a baseball game hostage in Fukuoka, then 500 more are flown in to occupy the city, with a flotilla of 120,000 to follow in a week. Faced with a self-proclaimed "rebel expeditionary force" intent on setting up an independent state on the island, the Japanese authorities lurch between paralysis and panic, sending in a tiny, ill-prepared anti-terrorist unit that only makes things worse.

If Murakami's book is in part a critique of how Japanese stoicism can tip over into passivity, that is borne out by the disaster that did hit the country in the spring of 2011: the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The dithering and kneejerk misinformation that characterises the response of politicians and bureaucrats in the novel could equally have applied there. Murakami treats the North Koreans as anything but caricatures, brutally efficient killers though they are. He is interested in what life under such a regime does to you, and he lavishes attention on the soldiers' memories of home, and on their astonished reaction to Japan - even the softness of the underwear.

The one element that could have stepped out of Murakami's previous novels is the gang of outcast teenagers who form the only real response to the invaders. Their counterattack, involving motorcycles, high-end weaponry, explosives and thousands of poisonous insects, provides a fittingly cinematic finale, but they are the most one-dimensional thing here. There is so much else that resonates, and the team of translators who put it all in unfussy English prose – Ralph McCarthy, Charles de Wolf and Ginny Tapley Takemori – have done their author and his ambitions proud.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific