Through the eyes of conflicted Americans and war-ravaged locals, Slake’s compelling debut novel focuses on the “sordid side of garrison life” in post–WWII Japan and the absurdities in Korea that followed.
Twenty-one year-old Pvt. David Ricksen, from Lincoln, Neb., has been stationed in Japan for six months, but he’s already acquired an attractive lover named Keiko. He also has an inconvenient relationship with a fellow GI—and proud grifter—Michael Hurley. When Ricksen is transferred to Korea, a raid of Russian tanks and North Korean soldiers decimates his unit and leaves him wandering a foreboding landscape and hoping deep down the Army will look out for him. Meanwhile, Hurley, who paid to stay behind in Yokohama to run his moneylending operation, kills a fellow soldier over $30, and as he sinks to the depths of hell to atone for his sins, he receives an unexpected offer from the malevolent Cpl. Faust—and his frightening flunky, Tomoda. Captivating USO worker Patricia Sorensen, troubled, beautiful prostitute Rie Hara and blackmailed Maj. Paul Nathan fill out the remaining slots of Slake’s sexual and tragic roundelay. Evocative descriptions recreate bustling Yokohama, with its ox carts, pachinko parlors, “bars and sex pits,” the brutal, impromptu battlefields of the Korean countryside, and in a touching coda, the Louvre. With strong and steady language, not devoid of poetry, Slake’s observations and intertwined plots reveal a raw vision of the beginning of the Korean conflict that defies its main “beneficiaries”: flawed Gen. MacArthur, the overblown efforts and narrow scope of the Marines and the triviality of M*A*S*H*. Although he tallies the tedium and travesties, such as Ricksen’s travails aboard the Shinano Maru en route to Korea, Slake never loses his sense of humor or humanity. His multidimensional characters, flawed in all-too-human ways, remain true to the insensitive racial and sexual stereotypes of the day—and not even the most secondary of characters, such as the exciting, mysterious Madame LeClerc, suffers from a lack of uninteresting back story.
An unflinching picaresque of finding love and sanity in a place that was anything but The Land of the Morning Calm.