602 Brigade: If Honda Betrayed Japan by Musashi Miyamoto is a gritty tale of surviving the horrors of war.
When an epic piece of fiction is set in the real world, within a context that almost seems plausible, it makes for truly unforgettable drama. That is precisely the atmosphere that Musashi Miyamoto creates for 602 Brigade. Not only is the premise of this novel frighteningly close to real-world events, at least in terms of tensions between Japan and the People’s Republic of China, but it’s also packed with exquisite detail and unique characters that immediately draw readers in.
From the horror-filled opening pages, where readers get a glimpse of the brutal invasion of Japan, to the treacherous missions of the ragtag group of survivors, this book is an up close and personal look at the desperate fight for survival in wartime. The narrator is matter of fact and graphically honest, almost dissociating from the terrible reality being described, which makes some of the scenes even harder to swallow. The dispassionate descriptions speak for themselves; there is no reason for embellishment or flowery language. War can be tragically poetic all by itself, something that the author seems to understand very well.
The novel moves through various pitched battles, ambushes and reconnaissance missions, expertly blending surrealism and savage realism, transporting readers from fiction to harsh facts and back again. As the story progresses and the characters begin to develop more fully, including Takeshi, Suzuki, Hiroshi and Daichi, the hope that seemed lost at the beginning of the book begins to swell and renew. Their small contributions to the much larger war take on more and more significance, and as readers accustom themselves to the fast-paced jargon of military minds, it’s impossible not to get hooked on the plot.
The attention to detail shown by Miyamoto is both a blessing and a curse, as there are a number of sections where it feels as though exposition is being foisted unnecessarily on readers. Being thorough in creating a setting is one thing, but 10% of this novel could have been slashed, and readers would have likely had the exact same experience, without the occasional boring passages. The writing throughout is skillful and meticulous, but there is too much telling from the narrator, rather than showing. More dialogue helps to personalize characters, rather than telling precisely how they are or what they’re feeling. Miyamoto seems to be a skillful enough author to know that and implement it slightly better throughout.
That being said, most importantly, when this book is looked at in its entirety, it should send a shiver down the spine of many people in the world today. It calls into question the undeniable links between big business, politics, international relations and the balance of world power. The thought that a corporation could single-handedly impact world events on such a grand scale – as wild and improbable as super weapons in the clouds might be – should be frightening to everyone. Miyamoto is able to tap into that real fear, and potential future, to create a unique and memorable story.
Heavy on the military details, but impressive in its character depth, 602 Brigade stands in a category unto itself. There are flashes of Murakami’s dark storytelling and Hemingway’s powerful prose, but the style overall belongs to Miyamoto alone, making this novel a truly unique diamond in the rough.