In a tale based on true events, a group of U.S. soldiers who deserted their troops during the Vietnam War spend time in Japan, where peace activists help them plan an escape to Sweden, a nation that offered asylum to such soldiers.
The hugger-mugger gives Turner an opportunity to introduce several different regions of Japan and several aspects of its culture and daily life at that time. A couple of his deserters develop relationships with Japanese women, and Turner exploits those scenes to introduce aspects of family life in the 1960s. He has clearly spent a lot of time in Japan himself, and his settings are very realistic. Though realism fails him when he is tempted to include a failed prosecution in one of the tales ... Turner handles his three story lines well, inter-leaving chapters from each. His American characters in particular are very realistic ... So this is not a novel about Sweden, but a few hours with Sweden will be well spent. You’ll come away with an interesting picture of mid-century Japan and an appreciation of a little-known movement with a place in modern history.
In alternating chapters, Turner tells Flynn’s story, and Harper’s, and that of a rowdy trio of teenagers. He also shares absorbing details on Japan’s past, geography, religion, culture, and cuisine; recreates several days of a violent student strike at Nihon University; and portrays life at a hippie commune, a way station for American deserters ... The narrative keeps moving, thanks to Turner’s efficient prose, as well as an attractive supporting cast.
Across its 300-plus pages, the novel encompasses a wide range of characters and settings. Along the way we encounter activists, hippies, servicemen, girlfriends and culture clashes aplenty. It portrays a vibrant, exciting time at the end of the 1960s, packed with the passion of personal entanglements, street riots and ideologies. But through it all pulses a timeless, poignant urge. As one character remarks early on, 'Some of [the activists] are communists. Some are Buddhists. Some are even Christians. They’re just normal people who want the Vietnam War to end.'