Above the East China Sea

Sarah Bird. Knopf, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-35011-2
Set in Okinawa with heroines who live seven decades apart, Bird's ambitious and rewarding novel offers a fascinating glimpse of the Pacific island. The novel begins in 1945 as Tamiko, a pregnant 15-year-old, commits suicide by throwing herself into the East China Sea, out of fear (spawned by Japanese propaganda) that the American soldiers overtaking the island will rape and kill her. Her story unfolds in flashback, as Tamiko speaks to her unborn child while both their spirits await entry into the next world. Alternating chapters set in contemporary Okinawa feature Luz James, the bratty military daughter of a part-Okinawan mother in the U.S. Air Force, who is mourning her sister Codie, killed during a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Bird draws a parallel between Luz, who suffers from suicidal thoughts herself, and Tamiko, who is similarly grief-stricken over the fate of her sister, Hatsuko, whose blind acceptance of government propaganda led her to serve as a nurse at a military hospital under terrible conditions. Bird (The Yokota Officer's Club), herself an "Army brat," invests the narrative with psychological veracity and effectively contrasts brusque military lingo with the islanders' lyrical expressions. While some readers may find the dialogue between Tamiko and her unborn child an awkward device, this potential flaw is balanced by the powerful sense of history and place. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/17/2014
Release date: 05/27/2014
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-101-87386-1
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-385-35012-9
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