Book Review – Sweden

By Matthew Turner
The Mantle NYThe Mantle NY
Rating ****

It’s 1968. As war rages in Vietnam, a group of American deserters holed up in Japan plot their escape with help from local peace activists. Their destination: Sweden.

Based on true events, SWEDEN takes readers on an exhilarating journey from the killing fields of Vietnam to a fogbound fishing port on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, with stops along the way at a hippie commune in Japan’s subtropical south and a student-occupied university in Tokyo. SWEDEN is your passport to discover a part of American history you never knew.


Sweden is a fast-paced historical fiction war novel set during the 1960’s Vietnam War.

The novel follows three characters and their journeys throughout the war. This includes:

Lieutenant Harper – 
Who is a marine whom after fighting in the war and getting injured decides he cannot return and has become a “deserter” he gets in contact with a Japanese anti-war group Beheiren, who are trying to help him escape to Sweden a neutral country.

Masuda – Who is a Japanese man who is deep within the anti-war movement Beheiren, helping American soldiers leave the country who do not want to return to war. Their group are naïve and amateur but try their best to help 3 young soldiers across Japan into a neutral country.

Eddie Flynn – Who is a young Seaman apprentice in the Navy who was working on a hospital ship, firstly in triage but then in the morgue, after seeing some really horrific things he decides to run away from the Naval base and see where fate takes him.

Each story is just as exciting and adventurous as the next, the novel is addictive because you want the best for each character and want to know where their future lies. I enjoyed the fact there were three different perspectives throughout the novel and within their journeys Turner flits from their past and their present situation, so you understand what they saw, felt and had to deal with during the war. Also you get to read the  two sides of the story, the American Soldiers wanting to leave the war behind them, even if it means they are betraying their country and leaving their home and families behind and the brave selfless people wanting to help the Americans even if they are sacrificing their own safety to do so.

I think my favourite character would be Eddie Flynn, I felt he developed the most as you could see him at the beginning of the novel as quite a shy man who wouldn’t stand up for himself and just did what he was told, throughout the novel he gained self confidence and I guess became a man. Out of all the ‘deserters’ I really wanted him to escape and make it out of Japan, in the epilogue you find out what happened to him and as a reader I just felt so proud of him that he went through so much but stayed strong.

I am a big fan of historical fiction but usually read about Nazi Germany, I have never read a book set during the Vietnam war before and really enjoyed it, not just because it was action packed and fast paced but I learnt a lot from it as well. I love learning anything about history, obviously this is a fictional novel but it made me realise what these soldiers had to put up with and a lot of novels or films focus purely on the action on the front line in Vietnam, this book was unique as it was set away from the fighting on the frontline and the soldiers were in Japan. There were some flashbacks of war scenes but this books main focus was about the soldiers who couldn’t cope with the war and how they got made to feel like traitors to their country just because they couldn’t handle the horrific things they saw or had to do on a daily basis.

I could really tell that Turner had a great passion for Japan and had an extensive knowledge about the different places and general culture of Japanese people. I travelled around Japan for a month and having this knowledge helped me understand a lot better the different locations throughout the book, the Japanese food and way of life. What I liked after the novel was that turner added a small chapter of historical notes which gave you an even better insight into what went on during the war, how many soldiers became “deserters” and all about the Japanese anti war movement. His depth of knowledge and understanding of these subjects really shined throughout the novel but he still maintained a fantastic, interesting and accomplished fictional narrative.

Considering this is Matthew Turner’s debut novel I can’t commend him enough; the writing was fantastic, and I could really imagine every part of the story playing out in my head just like a movie. As a book I think it was brilliant, but I personally think it would also make a great film or TV show, a bit like the HBO show The Pacific. I highly recommend this read, it isn’t something I would usually pick up or thought I would have liked but I really got into it and read it in just two days, I couldn’t put it down and hope this won’t be the only book Matthew Turner writes as I would definitely read any future novels he releases. Sweden is out on August 1st you can buy it on Amazon here.

Who is Matthew Turner? 
Matthew Turner was born in Greytown, New Zealand, in 1961. He was educated at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, where he gained a BA (Hons) in Japanese, and at Nagoya University and Keio University in Japan. He enjoys listening to jazz music and traveling on foot, and occasionally writes about these and other subjects at SWEDEN is his first novel.

I hope my review has given you a good insight to this fantastic novel. If you want a good fast paced novel this is for you. As always thanks for reading. Katie x



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