Speak, Okinawa

Knopf. Feb. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780525657347. $26.95. MEMOIR
Brina begins this masterful debut by sharing her first memory—a dog bite in her mother’s native Okinawa—and the following series of recollections serve as an apology to her mother and her former homeland for forgetting Japanese after moving to the United States and for distancing herself from her mother in an effort to become more American. Although this is Brina’s story, it’s her parent’s story as well. The author movingly depicts how her mother, the fifth of sixth children born to a poor family, married a U.S. serviceman, stationed at a military base in Okinawa, in order to escape poverty and ongoing abuse from an older brother. While her mother turned to drinking, feeling isolated in the suburbs of Rochester and no longer able to communicate with her daughter in her native language, her father, experiencing PTSD, was alternately withdrawn and controlling. Brina is at her best when illustrating her own isolation; striving to be white, like her father, but always feeling like parental warmth was out of reach and engaging in flings in order to find affection. Trips to Japan to visit extended family lead to poignant chapters on the history of the Okinawa islands.
VERDICT A can’t-miss memoir that will stay with readers after they finish the last page.
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