Neutral War is a thought-provoking story of Swedish neutrality and Japanese aggression as well as the relationship between two prominent men from both countries, set in the years preceding and during WWII. The novel is firmly rather than loosely based on actual events. Told from the perspective of the Swedish Ambassador to Japan, it covers many events from Japanese history, from the infamous Unit 731 (a Japanese chemical and biological campaign) to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath. It is intensely researched and enlightening, especially when one considers the times we are living in, but this extreme devotion to conveying actual events adds to its slothful pace. The relationship between “the Ambassador” (whose name, if it was ever mentioned, eluded me even when I searched for it) and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is mature, intellectual and absorbing. Neutral War being a novel and not a textbook, this was an element I would have preferred and enjoyed to see expanded.
Yet this is a book of substance and astounding facts that feels at times frightfully close to today’s reality. Despite its slow pace, this is an intelligent novel that isn’t afraid to make a statement.