Patterned after a failed Third Reich espionage operation, From The Fatherland, With Love is the code name of a North Korean black ops that compels “a rebel army faction that is not a rebel army faction” to infiltrate Kyushu, a small island off the mainland of Japan, and hold it until a fleet of Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) rust buckets completes the international annexation, delivering an irresistible force of 120,000 soldiers to the shores of the occupied Japanese island.
Exhaustive in its exploration of this insanely audacious military scheme, with far too many characters to keep track of without a cheat sheet (which is included in the front section of the novel for those eggheads who are inclined to try), Murakami’s nearly 700-page novel is not exclusive to the navel-gazer or adrenalin junkie, though both types may find it impossible to stop reading once they sink their meat hooks into this example of Murakami’s all-encompassing style of ass kicking.
In other words, FTFWL leavens a healthy dose of destruction and mayhem with a decent shot of philosophical inquiry. When you sympathize more with the DPRK commandos than with the 30,000 civilians they take hostage in the dome where the season opener for the local baseball team is taking place, you realize you’re in the hands of a maestro of set and frame. Both sides of the equation are products of their respective environments (frames) and have totally diametric sets of societal givens from which to work from: the North Koreans are spawned in a totalitarian hot-house cult of personality where brute force and intimidation are the people's daily bread whereas the Japanese spectators are so out of touch with the elbow-thrashing level of reality anymore, distracted by sports and entertainment and the overall decadence of their existence , that in the words of one of the DPRK commandos taking control of the dome, they’ve become “zombies who’d lost touch with their real souls.”
And the Japanese politicos who must confront this incursion on their own soil dither and do nothing, showing themselves to be a true extension of the people they purportedly are there to govern and protect. It crosses no one’s (except the North Koreans') mind that had the spectators in the dome bum-rushed the nine commandos that initiated the Korean incursion the whole thing would have been squashed with minimal collateral damage.
The North Koreans factored the lack of will of the people and their leaders into their plan, knowing that most if not all Japanese of this generation had no stomach for life-or-death struggle. The North Koreans are living examples of the axiom “Might Makes Right” and the futility of the concept of "right and wrong" when confronted with an unmitigated will to power and the force to back it up. The North Korean commandos had all been turned into killing machines through constant brutal training and the certainty of agonizing deaths for themselves and their families should they diverge from the DPRK party line. The Japanese civilians had all become sheep in thrall to sheep dressed in swank 3-piece suits.
The counterforce is applied by a band of murderous misfits who repudiate Japanese society and likewise are shunned and reviled by said, who are in no way a sympathetic band of brothers. At first, they even see the Korean invaders as kindred spirits who they will gladly range side-by-side with through the streets of their hated Japanese cities, raping and pillaging as they go. It is only after their leader, an old poet named Ishihara, intuits the reality of the Korean’s occupation -- that, should the Koreans succeed in fully taking the island, the Ishihara Group’s members would be singled out like diseased cattle that needed to be culled immediately from the herd -- that they decide to fight.
It is clear that these outcasts are woefully inferior to the Koreans in the discipline department and stand no chance in a head-on battle. But each individual in the Ishihara Group possesses some kind of aberrant skill (expertise in demolitions, boomerang chucking, poisonous insects … to name a few) that, when put together with the others’ adds up to something that just might be devised into a viable plan. The plan turns out to be the demolition of the high rise hotel the DPRK commandos have set up as their headquarters. With the help of the local equivalent of the Hell’s Angels, the Ishihara Group gains access to the unoccupied upper floors of the hotel and begin their deconstruction. Of course, things don’t go as planned. Charges are set. Challenges are met. Mayhem ensues and it all climaxes in a DPRK commando/Ishihara Group life-or-death struggle.
Amid the chaos and ultra-violence an important theme that has been building the entire novel culminates in one character’s moment of clarity:
Something more than just urine had exited Hino’s body when he peed himself: the thing they called ego or soul or spirit or something. He didn’t feel the cold water of the sprinklers as unpleasant, or as anything else. All he knew was he had to get back to work.
And get back to work, he does... Hino’s realization of universal oneness comes from within his individual nature. Conversely, the Koreans’ concept of oneness is driven into them from the outside with the delicacy of a sledgehammer on a railroad spike. Although both methods seem to be getting at the same conclusion, it can be inferred from the book's conclusion that true destiny is achieved not by threat or coercion, but through the difficult decisions and the sacrifices urged upon us to comply with by our own freewill.
And so, whatever the takeaway, this is one righteously entertaining smackdown of a novel which you will either read or you won't read since, in the final words of Ishihara-san himself, You're free to do as you please
Review originally published at tqrstories.com