cover image Speak, Okinawa

Speak, Okinawa

Elizabeth Miki Brina. Knopf, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-52565-734-7

Brina captivates in her stunning and intimate debut memoir. Brina’s mother, born and raised in post-WWII Okinawa, where the feuding forces of China, Japan, and the U.S. left the local population impoverished, married Brina’s father, a white American soldier from a wealthy family, in 1974, only to find herself a lonely fish out of water after they moved to suburban Fairport, N.Y. As an American child in a largely white community in the ’80s, Elizabeth found her mother’s foreign culture embarrassing and acted out as a result. (She writes, for instance, of giving her mother a paper-cutout heart with “I love you” written in Japanese for Christmas, and later tearing it to shreds: “When my mother sees what I have done, she covers her face with her hands and weeps.”) On a trip to Okinawa with her parents after her own broken engagement, she had an epiphany, realizing that her parents’ love is genuine but fraught with an unsettling power dynamic, evidenced by the fact that, on the trip, her father played tour guide, showing his naive “country gal” the rest of her own nation. This nuanced tale goes both wide and deep, and is as moving as it is ambitious. Memoir lovers will be enthralled. (Feb.)