2013 Books in Translation Chunkster Thriller

From the Fatherland, With Love by Ryu Murakami

From the Fatherland With Love

Translated from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy, Charles De Wolf, and Ginny Tapley Takemori

Five words from the blurb: Japan, invaded, North Korean, troops, death

From the Fatherland, With Love is a political thriller which describes a scarily plausible series of events in which North Korean special forces invade Japan. The book begins with them taking a sports stadium and its 30,000 occupants hostage and then shows how they progress to take control of increasingly large areas of Japan. The detail was so convincing that I spent most of my time worrying about the fact this book is in the public domain and terrorists could copy the clever (but devastating) ideas. I hope that authorities in Japan have read this book and closed some of the loopholes in their security and that terrorists don’t try to replicate any of the scenarios in this book, anywhere. Please visit to find about diy techniques.

I’m not normally a fan of thrillers, especially politically motivated ones, but there is something about the North Koreans that makes them especially compelling. I loved the background detail which explained what it was like to grow up under a tyrannical leader and how this upbringing changes the basic personality of the North Koreans. The interaction of the invading troops with the Japanese people was fascinating, although I suspect that most of the brilliant observations will be lost on those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese culture. I didn’t understand all the references to the Japanese political system, but a small amount of googling allowed me to understand the basic chain of command and I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on much.

 …the various intelligence services in Japan had no history of sharing information, and there was no system in place for integrating intelligence. In the event of an emergency or major disaster, it fell to the Security Council to collate information and direct the appropriate response to the crisis, but the various intelligence agencies lacked the channels for passing information to the Council in the first place. Why didn’t the Japanese government take intelligence seriously?….Suzuki thought there was a simple reason for it: that it simply wasn’t seen as necessary and therefore wasn’t considered important. Japan had no history of invasion by foreign countries, and was not composed of different ethnic groups with conflicting interests. For centuries domestic relations had been far more important than foreign ones, and the country was simply unable to adapt to the changed circumstances.

The book is 666 pages long and it did take a large investment of time to complete. There was a small section in the middle where I lost interest, but the momentum quickly picked up again and I was hooked through to the end. It isn’t a fast paced read, but the reader is desperate to discover how everything unfolds and so it remains gripping throughout.  There were a few too many characters for me, but I was impressed by the complexity and depth of the majority of them.

From the Fatherland, With Love is very different in style from Piercingthe only other book by Ryu Murakami that I’ve read. Piercing was very short and chilling. The only element shared by the books was the occasional gruesome scene involving blood-splattered violence; otherwise it would be impossible to tell that they were both written by the same person.

Overall this is a very intelligent book. It gives a chilling insight into the holes in Japan’s security; whilst at the same time giving a thorough examination of the Japanese and North Korean culture. Recommended to anyone who likes to learn from their literature.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 …a great story, and one whose ending works very well. Tony’s Reading List

…a compelling and shocking read. A Common Reader

…a wonderful cast of characters in a tale that rollicks along with all the mayhem, violence & action one expects from a Ryu Murakami book  The Parrish Lantern

2012 Uncategorized

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son

Five words from the blurb: North Korea, kidnapper, spy, glory, love

After reading the outstanding Nothing to Envy I found myself craving more stories from North Korea. The Orphan Master’s Son fitted the bill perfectly and so I dived straight in.

The story revolves around Jun Do, the son of an orphanage manager, who joins the military. Initially he is combat trained in the tunnels of the de-militarised zone between North and South Korea, but he is then sent on secret missions to kidnap Japanese citizens from the beaches of Japan.

At first, Jun Do had been thinking, Grab her here, pressure her there, but then a sick feeling rose in him. As the two rolled, Jun Do could see that she had wet herself, and the rawness of it, the brutality of what was happening, was newly clear to him.

These first hundred pages were fantastic. The atmosphere and emotions were perfectly captured in tense, vivid scenes that highlighted the horrible situations that North Koreans have to endure.

Unfortunately everything went downhill after this. Jun Do’s transfer to a fishing boat retained the vivid descriptions, but I felt the writing became overly masculine, veering towards that of a spy thriller. The ending of this section pushed the boundaries of believability and introduced an American senator. The American scenes jarred with the rest of the book and I found them very irritating. The continual comparisons between life in America and life in North Korea were unnecessary and I found them patronising.

Things deteriorated further in the second half. This section focused on Commander Ga, a military official, and an actress called Sun Moon. Their lives in Pyongyang were obviously satirical, but I’m afraid I didn’t find it amusing. The wonderful realism of the first few chapters were a distant memory as I read stories about Korean citizens that were either obviously untrue, or worse, were acting like Americans dropped in a difficult situation rather than people who had grown up with communism their entire lives. 

The more I read, the more annoyed I became. I’m sure other readers will appreciate this section, but I’m not a fan of satire and the way their lives were parodied made me sad. It felt as though the reader was supposed to laugh at various aspects of their lives and I don’t think this is right.

I’m sure this book will generate a lot of attention, especially in America, but I’m not sure this is a good thing. I don’t think people have a strong enough knowledge of North Korea to know which parts are true and which are fabricated. I wish that this book had been limited to its first half; that way people would just read a fantastic book with a slightly disappointing ending, instead of an overly long book with numerous unrealistic impressions of this mysterious society.

First 100 pages:  

Remaining 300 pages:



The thoughts of other bloggers:

The book is a remarkable achievement and perhaps give more idea about daily life in North Korea than anything else on the market. A Common Reader

With accurate descriptive language, Johnson describes unsettling scenes throughout the entire novel in a way that actually makes you feel and taste the fear the characters encounter. Where Pen Meets Paper

I had an incredibly difficult time getting through this one.  Take Me Away