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A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman's journey to understanding her complicated parents--her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran--and her own, fraught cultural heritage. Elizabeth's mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman's journey to understanding her complicated parents--her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran--and her own, fraught cultural heritage. Elizabeth's mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. There, Elizabeth grew up with the trappings of a typical American childhood and adolescence. Yet even though she felt almost no connection to her mother's distant home, she also felt out of place among her peers. Decades later, Elizabeth comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and attempts a form of reconciliation, not only to come to terms with the embattled dynamics of her family but also to reckon with the injustices that reverberate throughout the history of Okinawa and its people. Clear-eyed and profoundly humane, Speak, Okinawa is a startling accomplishment--a heartfelt exploration of identity, inheritance, forgiveness, and what it means to be an American.


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A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman's journey to understanding her complicated parents--her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran--and her own, fraught cultural heritage. Elizabeth's mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman's journey to understanding her complicated parents--her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran--and her own, fraught cultural heritage. Elizabeth's mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. There, Elizabeth grew up with the trappings of a typical American childhood and adolescence. Yet even though she felt almost no connection to her mother's distant home, she also felt out of place among her peers. Decades later, Elizabeth comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and attempts a form of reconciliation, not only to come to terms with the embattled dynamics of her family but also to reckon with the injustices that reverberate throughout the history of Okinawa and its people. Clear-eyed and profoundly humane, Speak, Okinawa is a startling accomplishment--a heartfelt exploration of identity, inheritance, forgiveness, and what it means to be an American.

30 review for Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I’m on the trail ... will write a review soon... But before I continue walking... I just want to say how timely this book is. It’s MORE than a memoir.... The history of immigrant Asians in the United States has not been examined enough - understood enough - respected enough. The Asian hate crimes we just recently witnessed- have been on the rise. ITS ALARMING! I started this book through the library Overdrive... in audiobook format ... I was engaged right away but it’s as we get further and deeper I’m on the trail ... will write a review soon... But before I continue walking... I just want to say how timely this book is. It’s MORE than a memoir.... The history of immigrant Asians in the United States has not been examined enough - understood enough - respected enough. The Asian hate crimes we just recently witnessed- have been on the rise. ITS ALARMING! I started this book through the library Overdrive... in audiobook format ... I was engaged right away but it’s as we get further and deeper into this book — the heart of the IMPORTANCE & history punches us in the gut..... The injustice and misunderstandings of Asians begin to really build... and it begins to weigh heavy on our thoughts. How would you feel if people said your face wasn’t recognizable from the next Japanese or Chinese or Hawaiian person? How would you feel if you were lumped together — as one face — no individuality? a throwaway? Paul, just happened to join in - listened-in.... when we were in the garden yesterday...during a gripping powerful moment ... I was more than half way. Paul became so interested — we ended up buying a copy. I have much more to say about this book and I’m glad Paul wants to listen to its entirety, too. The author did an outstanding job portraying the feelings of being American/Japanese....growing up in America - a daughter of parents who each had complicated stories of their own... Much more to say... but... I’ve got to get walking... I may return... to share more specifics... but NO QUESTION... this is another 5 star fascinating-interesting- enjoyable and informative AUDIOBOOK... I’ll be listening again with this guy I live with.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elena L.

    Beginning with the Battle of Okinawa, this memoir tells how Brina's grandmother survived during times of war's devastation and her mother's birth after the island was wrecked. Daughter of a Japanese woman and American soldier, Brina, as a mixed race person, was often afraid of loneliness, not belonging and disappointing. She endured racism in her early ages and wanted her mother to be like other Americans. Beyond the language barrier, the clash of culture and history lingered between mother and d Beginning with the Battle of Okinawa, this memoir tells how Brina's grandmother survived during times of war's devastation and her mother's birth after the island was wrecked. Daughter of a Japanese woman and American soldier, Brina, as a mixed race person, was often afraid of loneliness, not belonging and disappointing. She endured racism in her early ages and wanted her mother to be like other Americans. Beyond the language barrier, the clash of culture and history lingered between mother and daughter, widening the gap amongst them while Brina had mixed feelings about her mother. She grew up ashamed of her Japanese descent and it wasn't until Brina was an adult that she sought to connect with her Japanese heritage. Brina also details her mother's hard life as an immigrant, describing the insecurities and helplessness. Same as the daughter, her mother suffered with (not) belonging. Some chapters felt like opening her mother's already-healed wound. As a reader, I empathized with both mother's struggles and daughter's recklessness. In other segments, Brina paints the experiences with her protective and cool father. We get to hear stories about war from his perspective and understand his internalized obsession with honor. Ultimately, we see the author's willingness to understand her parents' (love) story. Later, Brina guides us into a journey of exploration of Japan in its intimacy, vividly showcasing the beauty and cultural/historical significance of cities, buildings and nature. I was immersed into Okinawan history, a place heavily imprinted by Japan, US and China, not to mention its particular connection with Japan. In the battle of Okinawa, we feel pain, harm and destruction. Even though I found myself interested in the Japanese history, some parts were dense and hard to read. My critiques are that, with glimpses of past and present throughout the novel, the transitions weren't always smooth. While I lost interest at times towards the end, the ending made me miss my mother. SPEAK, OKINAWA is an intimate and vulnerable memoir that explores the life and struggles of a biracial woman and at the same time, allows us a deep look into Okinawa/Japan. I applaud Brina for her openness to deliver raw emotions and I recommend this memoir for readers wanting to read more about Asian American experience and Japan. [ I received an ARC from the publisher - Knopf publishing - in exchange for an honest review ]

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laura Pita

    In this book Elizabeth Miki Brina weaves her life story with the story of Okinawa. She also goes back and forth between the past (her childhood) and the present (her adulthood). She begins by writing from the point of view of her young self, a second generation American caught between two worlds. As a product of growing up in the US and she gravitated heavily towards her dad. This meant she struggled to connect with her mom, and not just because of the language barrier. As many children of immig In this book Elizabeth Miki Brina weaves her life story with the story of Okinawa. She also goes back and forth between the past (her childhood) and the present (her adulthood). She begins by writing from the point of view of her young self, a second generation American caught between two worlds. As a product of growing up in the US and she gravitated heavily towards her dad. This meant she struggled to connect with her mom, and not just because of the language barrier. As many children of immigrants she also struggled with her identity, rebelled a lot in her teenage years and had a hard time finding herself. In between the personal chapters we get to learn about the history of the island from the beginning, to when the Chinese came over in the early 14th century and called them “Liu Chiu” which turned to “Ryukyu”, to their forced allegiance to Japan, to when the first Americans showed up in the 19th century, to the WWII: Battle of Okinawa, to the present day. We also get to know the authors parents Kyoko and Arthur Brina. We get to read their life stories, hear about their unique quirks and struggles, their marriage and their relationship with their only daughter Elizabeth. “I used to deny my parents’ love for each other, because I didn’t understand it, because it didn’t fit some mold, didn’t align with some image of love I had conjured. I thought that love, true love, should involve something more than just commitment. My father never thought of leaving. Only of letting her leave. My mother never thought of leaving. Only threatening to leave. Maybe love is choosing to stay. Maybe love is choosing to stay every day until the choice becomes permanent”. Obviously the life story of someone needs to be interesting enough to write a memoir and the Brina family truly delivered! I loved the growth we get to see in each of them and I cannot end this post without saying that I cried ugly tears at the end. To see Brina and her moms relationship bloom was just wonderful 😭! “I am an Okinawan story. I am an American story. I wish I could locate a precise point of transformation, the pivotal moment when my mother and I finally reconciled. But that’s not how we apologize and forgive. The healing is gradual, cumulative. It happens as we begin to recognize our mothers not as mothers, but as women who endure husbands and daughters. It happens as we begin to accept and appreciate our very own exquisite uniqueness, and everyone we hold responsible. It happens now as I write.” I also need to add that I loved the way the book was outlined! I enjoyed the back and forths, the way we don’t meet the parents until the middle of the book, the comparing their Japan honeymoon in 1975 to their Japan vacation in 2015. It kept me interested the whole time. Have I mentioned I rarely read non-fiction because they bore me? Did not happen with this one!! As someone who considers themselves lucky to have gotten to call Okinawa home for six years, thanks to my husband serving in the Marine Corps, I felt it important then to immerse myself in the culture and learn the history of Okinawa. We’ve been gone 2.5 years now and my love for the island is still strong. It’s always hard to read about the long history between the US military and Okinawa, but needed. At the end of the book the author lists some of the thousands of incidents and crimes by military members, she mentions the plans to relocate Futenma Air Station up north, the countless petitions to the US government and the protests, and ends with a call of action. “...America, as we speak you are dumping sand and soil into our ocean. Not for our defense. Not for our protection. America, it’s not too late. No matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong path, it’s not too late. Turn back. Turn back. Free Okinawa!” It is my hope that the US military returns their land to the people of Okinawa and that in 2050 when the treaty ends they finally get to be free. Yes, the book is hard to read at times and not just the parts that describe the war. This is a book about the struggles of being an immigrant in the US, coming to terms with your identity no matter how long it takes, it’s also about apologizing and moving forward. I cannot recommend this book enough and I’m excited to add it to my Okinawa book stack!

  4. 4 out of 5

    TEELOCK Mithilesh

    Elizabeth Miki Brina’s mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. Decades later, the author comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and she attempts a form of reconciliation, no Elizabeth Miki Brina’s mother was working as a nightclub hostess on U.S.-occupied Okinawa when she met the American soldier who would become her husband. The language barrier and power imbalance that defined their early relationship followed them to the predominantly white, upstate New York suburb where they moved to raise their only daughter. Decades later, the author comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and she attempts a form of reconciliation, not only to come to terms with the embattled dynamics of her family but also to reckon with the injustices that reverberate throughout the history of Okinawa and its people.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emi Bevacqua

    I love this title, the quality writing, the parallel stories - one wartime one contemporary, the themes, the history, the upheaval and the reckoning, absolutely everything about this book except its beginning. Until I realized where it was going I was distracted by how terrible I felt for Kyoko, Elizabeth's Okinawan mom. But I realize that discomfort I went through was vital to the reading experience, which ends up being profoundly moving and rewarding. As a half-Japanese American myself, I full I love this title, the quality writing, the parallel stories - one wartime one contemporary, the themes, the history, the upheaval and the reckoning, absolutely everything about this book except its beginning. Until I realized where it was going I was distracted by how terrible I felt for Kyoko, Elizabeth's Okinawan mom. But I realize that discomfort I went through was vital to the reading experience, which ends up being profoundly moving and rewarding. As a half-Japanese American myself, I fully relate to much of Brina's mixed feelings about growing up mixed race, traveling between cultures, and the associated linguistic challenges; also brilliance like this: "Half of me uses the other half to maintain innocence". Having lived in Japan for 8 years altogether, and working on news at Japan's national broadcasting network for 4 of them, I thought I had a pretty good working knowledge of Okinawa's history and the mistreatment they endured from mainland Japanese and US occupying forces; but no. Brina's clear and comprehensive timeline-style of highlighting facts and demonstrating actual residual effects via her own family members brings a history of injustice to light, with great and lyrical impact. Brina's sincerity and honesty are at times mind boggling, but I am so grateful. Even though they're not central to the theme of apology and atonement, I appreciate the brutally open way Brina incorporates ugly factors such as alcohol bingeing, and biased media in to her family story, even admitting to lying on her resume. This book must be read through to its ending, which slayed me with its absolute beauty. Speak, Okinawa goes on sale Feb 23, 2021 and I thank Edelweiss+ for the ARC.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Zibby Owens

    From the first sentence, I was immersed in the story about the author's relationship with her mom, the complications, and her family. I learned so much about Okinawa, and the way the author wove in the history was effortless, like she was teaching and sharing at the same time. The book is essentially about a girl repairing her relationship with her mother. It delves into the repairing process and the discovery of her learning who her mother is and how she met her father, who was a soldier statio From the first sentence, I was immersed in the story about the author's relationship with her mom, the complications, and her family. I learned so much about Okinawa, and the way the author wove in the history was effortless, like she was teaching and sharing at the same time. The book is essentially about a girl repairing her relationship with her mother. It delves into the repairing process and the discovery of her learning who her mother is and how she met her father, who was a soldier stationed on the island that was an occupied US territory. These imperialistic origins were embedded in the family dynamics. One passage touched me when the author said, "Yet these memories are impossible to forget regardless of whether we actually lived through them. I believe they stay in our bodies as sickness, like addiction, as poor posture, or a tendency toward apology, as a deepened capacity for a sadness or anger, as determination to survive, a relentless, tempered optimism. I believe they are inherited, passed onto us like brown eyes or the shape of a nose." I thought that was beautiful in the way she talked about inherited trauma. To listen to my interview with the author, go to my podcast at: https://zibbyowens.com/transcript/eli...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    This was a hard memoir to read. Probably because I sit here in Okinawa on a base that is loathed, and I know why it’s loathed, and still I love this island and the people here. Elizabeth’s memoir is really interesting - combining stories from her parent’s marriage before she was born, her trips to Okinawa, and feeling like an outsider in the United States because she was the only Asian kid in her town in New York. There is so much history in Okinawa that clearly pervades Elizabeth’s being, and I This was a hard memoir to read. Probably because I sit here in Okinawa on a base that is loathed, and I know why it’s loathed, and still I love this island and the people here. Elizabeth’s memoir is really interesting - combining stories from her parent’s marriage before she was born, her trips to Okinawa, and feeling like an outsider in the United States because she was the only Asian kid in her town in New York. There is so much history in Okinawa that clearly pervades Elizabeth’s being, and I think she connects these dots of herself, her parents, and the island so beautifully. “My mother before me is a story. A story she can’t tell me in her own language. A story, she claims, she barely remembers. Or maybe she doesn’t want to remember. Or maybe she can’t remember because she was never taught how to remember. Because she was never told her life is important enough to remember. . I am trying to tell her now that her life is important enough to remember.”

  8. 4 out of 5

    Miya

    A beautiful book about the difficulties involved with growing up as a mixed race individual. Elizabeth Miki Brina speaks elegantly about the feeling of belonging to two very distinct worlds, and how often times, this duality of belonging causes a person to feel adrift with nowhere to truly call home. Speak, Okinawa deals with themes of forgiveness, apology, guilt, language, and the importance of bearing witness to your own personal histories. She paints a unique portrait of the immigrant experie A beautiful book about the difficulties involved with growing up as a mixed race individual. Elizabeth Miki Brina speaks elegantly about the feeling of belonging to two very distinct worlds, and how often times, this duality of belonging causes a person to feel adrift with nowhere to truly call home. Speak, Okinawa deals with themes of forgiveness, apology, guilt, language, and the importance of bearing witness to your own personal histories. She paints a unique portrait of the immigrant experience through her meditations on her mother's life, and she creates a vivid image of Okinawa, an island rich with history that is both uplifting and devastating. To read Speak, Okinawa is to immerse yourself in Brina's upbringing. As a person who also grew up mixed race (half Japanese, even!), I found Brina's book to be extremely validating and comforting. Her experience was not entirely my experience, but I was able to relate to her unique perspective in ways that made me feel truly seen. This is a must read if you are looking for unique stories about Japan, Asian Americans, and the importance of honoring your family's history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    An immersive and painful exploration of biracial identity and family dynamics. I really felt for the author whose pain came right off the page. I heard her speak on several podcasts and she may have further memoirs exploring these issues which I would definitely read. More sorrowful than angry, but ultimately hopeful.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Viola

    https://hyphenmagazine.com/blog/2021/... AN OVERLOOKED AMERICAN STORY A Q&A with Elizabeth Miki Brina, author of Speak, Okinawa Viviane Eng. March 13, 2021 Elizabeth Miki Brina’s memoir, Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir, delves into the complicated history of her parents — an Okinawan war bride and a Manhattan-raised Vietnam War veteran. Her story explores the direct effects of U.S. imperialist ventures on her parents’ relationship, her experiences growing up pulled between two worlds and how she’s begun t https://hyphenmagazine.com/blog/2021/... AN OVERLOOKED AMERICAN STORY A Q&A with Elizabeth Miki Brina, author of Speak, Okinawa Viviane Eng. March 13, 2021 Elizabeth Miki Brina’s memoir, Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir, delves into the complicated history of her parents — an Okinawan war bride and a Manhattan-raised Vietnam War veteran. Her story explores the direct effects of U.S. imperialist ventures on her parents’ relationship, her experiences growing up pulled between two worlds and how she’s begun to make sense of her family’s American history — in which so much had previously been left unsaid. Viviane Eng corresponded with Miki Brina about her literary inspirations, writing during the pandemic and her mission in writing the book. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Viviane Eng: As much as Speak, Okinawa is a memoir that delves into your complicated family history, it also serves as a deeply lyrical archive of 20th century Okinawa. Can you tell me about your research process and describe the moment in which you decided that you needed to write this book? Elizabeth Miki Brina: The moment I decided I needed to write this book was shortly after my mother’s baptism. She had recently joined the Rochester Japanese Christian Congregation, and when I attended her baptism, I discovered that not only were all the 50 or so members Japanese, but almost all of them were women, almost all of the women were around my mother’s age and all of the women were married to white American men who had served in the military. This was the first time I realized that there are many people like my mother and that her marriage to my father couldn’t have been just a coincidence, an anomaly or an isolated incident. There had to be some common cause, some overlapping experience. Then I began to research our history, personal and individual, as well as the global events that took place in order for my mother and father to meet. I read several academic texts by scholars who were also trying to understand this social phenomenon: Women of Okinawa and Okinawa’s GI Brides, as well as Okinawa: The History of an Island People by George Kerr, a tome of 500 pages recounting the history of Okinawa from its first settlers to its total devastation during World War II. But the memoirs and short stories and novellas helped me the most. I could see and feel the history as it was lived. I could witness it. That’s what truly made me understand what my mother and people like her had endured, and subsequently, made me understand myself. And that’s what I wanted to be able to achieve in my book. I wanted the history to feel real and close. VE: As I read through the book, I was continually struck by your capacity for empathy. Whether it was empathy for your parents, abusive partners or yourself, you always managed to cast a nuanced light on everyone who appears in your story. Do you think empathy has always been a strong suit of yours, or is it something that comes out through your writing process? EMB: I think both. I was raised by two incredibly empathetic parents. They always tried to understand my behavior, my choices and motivations in context. They always gave me the benefit of the doubt. If I did anything cruel or insensitive, they seemed to understand that it came from a source of hurt and confusion. Taking these cues from them, I always tried to reciprocate their empathy and transfer this empathy to other people in my life. I think writing is a natural and immediate way to practice and display empathy. I write to understand myself, and in order to fully understand myself, I have to understand the people who have impacted me. It wouldn’t do me any good to be one-sided, to disregard their humanity and everything that happened to them to make them do what they do. Writing gives me a chance to express my interpretations and inferences. Usually, off the page, when we’re in the heat of the moment, on the spot, or too young and unaware and careless and selfish, we don’t get to share our explanation. VE: Throughout the book, your narrative voice jumps between scenes of World War II-era Okinawa and your own life growing up in upstate New York. Readers are offered interior glimpses into the lives of people you didn’t know personally, such as the wounded mother nursing her baby for the last time during the infamously brutal Battle of Okinawa. So many images that stuck with me from the book are from your descriptions of scenes you certainly did not witness firsthand — they read as if they’re from a novel. What’s the line between fiction and nonfiction for you? Did you ever think about telling this story as a work of fiction? How do you bring something that you didn’t experience firsthand to life, especially within the form of a memoir, a genre that supposedly prioritizes “true” stories? EMB: I must admit that I’ve been grappling with this line between fiction and nonfiction for as long as I’ve been writing. I believe it’s inaccurate to simply define the line as the difference between fabrication and fact, whether you’re contriving and imagining or reporting and remembering. I believe nonfiction as memoir has more to do with the decision to claim the narrative as yours, as having actually happened to you, and this decision is based on what will better serve the work, what will allow you to tell the complete story, convey the complete emotional truth, as much of it as possible. I never considered writing my story as fiction. I couldn’t. I absolutely had to tell it as me, as mine. Those horrific events didn’t actually happen to me, but they actually happened to real people, and those real people are my ancestors. I believe their lives — what they suffered — has too much to do with me and my life to deny it or distance myself from it. VE: Speak, Okinawa often makes a point of discussing the notion of inherited traumas and how our past experiences cause us to behave in the idiosyncratic ways that we do, for better or for worse. In the case of your parents, in particular, I find that you paint an incredibly honest portrait of both of them, where their virtues and flaws shine beside one another. Did you have to prepare your parents for how they were going to be depicted in the book? Do you worry about how they’ll react to the way they’ve been characterized? EMB: These are the questions that keep me up at night or wake me up in the middle of the night. I’ve apologized to my parents many times in advance and mentioned to them that there are many of their “deep dark secrets” in the book that they probably don’t want anyone to know about. I asked them if they wanted to read the book before it was published and they declined. They say they trust me — Bless them! — and will wait until it’s officially on the shelves. So yes. Of course I worry. I don’t think it’s possible to ever fully capture a human being in all their complexities and nuances. Some gets left out, and perhaps the rest gets altered by what was left out. But like I said before, my parents are very understanding. I hope, once again, they will try to understand my choices and motivations. I’m sure they will. We’ll have a lot to talk about after they read it. VE: Something I was impressed with throughout the book was your seemingly limitless access to your own memories, some of which went all the way back to your early childhood. Did you keep a journal growing up? How did you tap into the really old memories and ensure they still read as vivid and fresh on the page? EMB: I did keep a journal growing up. I have about a dozen Five Star spiral-bound notebooks from middle school and high school stashed away in my parents’ attic. I didn’t reread those, by the way (couldn’t bring myself do it!), though I think the mere act of writing helped solidify these memories and what I was feeling. I also think that certain memories, the ones that are especially crucial, the ones that need to be examined, remain intact for this reason. That was part of the process for writing this book: focusing on the memories that had always stood out to me, came back to me over and over again and stayed with me after so many years, then trying to understand why. And although craft-wise it’s often considered gimmicky, writing in the present tense really helped put me back in those moments. VE: Were there any findings or realizations in your research and writing that you wish you hadn’t encountered? How did you decompress after working on sections of the book that took a particularly heavy emotional toll on you? EMB: If it was true, then no, I don’t wish I hadn’t encountered it. But I wish a lot of it didn’t happen, especially what’s happening to Okinawa now, the new bases that are currently being constructed. What a heartbreak and injustice for the majority of Okinawans who want all the bases to be removed. I wish I had healthier forms of decompression but usually I drink several tall glasses of red wine spritzers or just red wine, depending on the temperature and mood of the night, chain smoke cigarettes and listen to music on my headphones on my porch. And cry. But before I write, I usually go for a bike ride or a walk so maybe that cancels out the bad-for-me stuff? VE: What has been your experience of preparing to release your debut work in the midst of a global pandemic? What changes to your publication plan have you had to make as a result? EMB: I certainly had dreams and visions of releasing my debut work under different circumstances. I very much wish I could interact with other writers and readers in person, that I could celebrate in person with family and friends and the team of people who have been supporting me throughout the process. But looking back, I’m also extremely grateful the book is coming out now. With the last stages of revising and editing and getting ready for the launch, I feel fortunate that I had something so important to me to pour my anxious energy into, keep me grounded and focused during all this scary strangeness. VE: Speaking as a fellow Asian American, I didn’t read books by anyone that looked remotely like me until I was probably in college. Ethnic studies and Asian American literature classes, frankly, changed my life! Whether it’s a specific title or a general topic, what from Asian American history or literature do you wish you were taught in high school? EMB: I didn’t read a book by an Asian American author until graduate school and it changed my life, too! The first book I read by an Asian American author was The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston and it is still one of my favorite books. I wish I could have read that book in high school, and the book The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, and so many others. Also, Hiroshima by John Hersey, even though he wasn’t Asian American. It would have been extremely beneficial, if in general, Asian history or Asian American history was taught from the perspective of Asians or Asian Americans and not just Americans or white Americans. VE: Who are some writers you’re especially excited by right now? EMB: Like everyone else I know, I have a large stack of books to read and I always feel so far behind. I read very slowly and deliberately, so I only manage to read about 10 books a year if I’m lucky. The last five books I read were The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh, Memorial by Bryan Washington and Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey. All of these books gripped me from beginning to end and were exactly what I needed to read at the time. Got me through 2020. ++++++++++ VIVIANE ENG Viviane Eng is Food & Agriculture Editor at Hyphen Magazine. Born, raised, and currently based in New York City, her work explores the intersections of race, culture, and power, especially (but not always!) in the context of food systems and spaces.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aoi

    Elizabeth Brina's experience growing up and into her half-Okinawan heritage may not be the same as my own, but it's still an important and welcome perspective. Elizabeth Brina's experience growing up and into her half-Okinawan heritage may not be the same as my own, but it's still an important and welcome perspective.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    “These are the first lessons we are taught in preschool. Which one is not like the others? We are taught to match. Colors with corresponding colors, shapes with corresponding shapes, fruits with other fruits, a tree does not belong in the group labeled ‘animal’. We are taught that sameness is correct. Sameness is desired.” There are perhaps many paths one can choose when writing a memoir. The majority of memoirs offer glimpses into the writer without ever really exposing the parts of themselves “These are the first lessons we are taught in preschool. Which one is not like the others? We are taught to match. Colors with corresponding colors, shapes with corresponding shapes, fruits with other fruits, a tree does not belong in the group labeled ‘animal’. We are taught that sameness is correct. Sameness is desired.” There are perhaps many paths one can choose when writing a memoir. The majority of memoirs offer glimpses into the writer without ever really exposing the parts of themselves really close to the bone. The parts that cause you to have sleepless nights. The parts that when you look in the mirror you wish that it was someone else, anyone else, looking back at you. In short, most memoirs are varying degrees of safe. This is not that kind of memoir. In contrast, it is a litany of pain. Of disappointment. Of regret. There are very few respites from any of it to be found here. Each time Brina’s life and pain seems to have bottomed out and I think I can finally come up for some air, there is always more. Perhaps even more striking is that there is in truth, very little extraordinary about her life. Her pain is found in the ordinary indignities and humiliations we all more or less have to deal with at some point in our lives. A mother who moved to America with her father in her early 20’s who spoke no English and felt isolated and homesick to the point that she would get blackout drunk more often than not to dull the pain: “My mother and I speak different languages. Her native language is Japanese. My native language is English. This might seem like a mundane fact about us. It’s not. It dictates everything. Because even though my mother understands and speaks English at a highly functional level, there are places inside me she can’t reach, nuances of thought and emotion I can’t express in words that make sense to her." “Sometimes my mother got very drunk. She would call her mother and sisters in Okinawa, talk on the phone for hours, then hang up and burst into tears. For a long time, I thought my mother was weak. Because she couldn’t speak English very well or read. Because she was afraid of pools and neighbors. Because she got drunk and sobbed unconsolably, and had to be carried, sometimes dragged, to bed. I didn’t realize then that she couldn’t change history, that history wasn’t her fault. That she could never escape the legacy of defeat, of trauma, perpetuated by her very own husband and daughter. That I could never escape, either. Now, whenever I try to comprehend her loneliness, I am completely overwhelmed by her strength. She must have longed for that small child in the photographs. She must have ached from missing me.” A father who like her mother was loving, but showed his own frustration with his life by often being at turns either withdrawn or overly protective of her and her mom (there is a funny story about when the author was a teenager and her dad, worried when she wasn’t home on time, downloaded her cell phone records online and called the last number he found to find her. Overprotective perhaps, but also she recognizes later, endearing). “But I also remember the countless times I needed those phone calls. How his voice gave me strength, motivation to ‘carpe diem’. How his voice gave me comfort, reassurance that my mistakes weren’t so bad or consequential. I remember the countless times I called him sobbing, anxious, on the verge of panic, at one, two, three o’clock in the morning. He always answered. As I got older, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two years old, I weaned him to one phone call a day, then one phone call every other day, and then, finally, to one text a day and one phone call a week. Except sometimes, he cheats. I try not to let myself get too upset or annoyed. I think about how, after my father’s gone, I won’t get those phone calls anymore. The thought fills me with dread. I’ll miss them.” Both of her parents, were abused as children by their parents. Reading about her not understanding her father emotionally, her mother both emotionally and linguistically was physically painful at times. Many of us have uses with our parents at some point in our lives but for most of us we do not have to grapple with our mother or father coming from a completely different world than ours. Watching her respond to the stresses in her life in the way many teenagers did, by acting out was also difficult to read. Drinking, smoking, letting herself be sexually exploited by anyone who showed her the littlest affection by the age of 14, not to mention the myriad identity issues wrapped up in being a girl who just wanted to assimilate but resented and often hated her mom for physically reminding her that she never could, made me more than once wonder how much more of this sadness I could take. And yet I continued. I continued mainly because I came to really care about this scared and confused little girl. I cared about the woman in her 20’s who seemed to be engaging in the same reckless behavior and self loathing that she had as a child. I cared about the woman in her 30’s who clearly still struggled, but had begun to see some daylight in her life. Someone who had begun to see the damage and pain she caused her mother, her father, and those around her who loved her and was beginning to, most importantly, learn how to love herself.. I saw someone filled with sadness and regret who knew there was so much that could never be undone but was searching for wats to make things right with the time she had left. I saw all this and was filled with so much admiration and respect for her. This however is not only her story. This memoir’s true brilliance is found in how she ties the story of Okinawa, a place she spent a short time in as a child, and then only in several visits later in life, to her own. As her story unfolds, Okinawa transforms from a place she resents, hates as the symbol of her mother and the obstacle to her being a “normal” American girl. The Okinawa of her childhood memories is a dirty, impoverished place that she wishes would go away. Not unlike her own inner emotional state as a young adult. Yet as she gets older, she begins to admire the strength of Okinawa (and perhaps her own) as it survives humiliation after humiliation from the Chinese, from the Japanese, from the Americans. Okinawa doesn’t simply survive, but finds happiness in community and family. Much in the same way as she later begins to appreciate her own family. By the end of this memoir, Okinawa and the author are inextricably linked as shared inheritors of suffering yes, but also of strength, perseverance, and even happiness in the face of hardship. “We are islands and we are people. We are people who can’t remember how we got here. Or why we came here. Some of us came with the current and some of us came with the winds. Some of us came from the north, from Japan.” One final and remarkable thing here is the narrative structure Brina uses. The chapters alternate between stark lists of historical facts about Okinawa (some extremely hard to read), the story of her mother, her father (the most stunning is a chapter inside a chapter that alternates between her parents honeymoon in Okinawa in 1975 and her trip there with them 30 years later. She tells parallel stories about the present and how she imagines they spoke to each other 30 years earlier), herself and her childhood. Perhaps most controversial to some would be the fictionalized portions of the memoir in which trying to emphasize some of the hardships Okinawans faced at the end of WW2, she places herself in a cave circa 1945 as American mortar shells rain down on her. She takes the voice of Okinawa which she admits she has little claim to or experience of, and makes it her own. She also takes the voice of a member of Commodore Matthew Perry’s staff as they land in Okinawa before pushing on to Japan, raping, looting, and humiliating the people and forcing American hegemony on them. It is to say the least a very ambitious attempt at creative writing and while personally I wasn’t always comfortable with her appropriation of these distant voices, or the words she put in their mouths, (I want to sit down and discuss these portions of the memoir with Paisley Rekdal!) I certainly can understand why she did so. But this is just a minor point that in no way detracts from the sum of the memoir. A memoir that is as raw, honest, and revealing as any you are likely to read. When Brina has for example her first conversation with her mother in Japanese, on her mother’s 69th birthday, it may be only about what they had for dinner, but deep down they know it means so much more. It means everything to them both. It is truly one of the more beautiful scenes I can remember reading. It is certainly not a memoir that is easy to read. By the time you turn the final page it will have taken a lot of you. However, it also gives you back more than you could have ever expected, rewarding you with a fundamentally human story. A story of suffering yes, but also its corollary, the ever present hope of redemption.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sachi Argabright

    SPEAK, OKINAWA by Elizabeth Miki Brina is a memoir from a biracial woman whose American father met her Okinawan mother while he was stationed on the island. The book discusses details of Brina’s life including her experience as a biracial Asian American living in a predominantly white community, and the dynamics of being in a family who must lean very heavily on patriarch due to language barriers between the 3 members of the household. In contrast, the book also reflects on the history of Okinaw SPEAK, OKINAWA by Elizabeth Miki Brina is a memoir from a biracial woman whose American father met her Okinawan mother while he was stationed on the island. The book discusses details of Brina’s life including her experience as a biracial Asian American living in a predominantly white community, and the dynamics of being in a family who must lean very heavily on patriarch due to language barriers between the 3 members of the household. In contrast, the book also reflects on the history of Okinawa and its complicated past with other countries, especially the U.S. [ Trigger warnings for war/violence, sexual assault, and rape ] This memoir spoke to me and my personal experiences so strongly, and it will likely be one of my favorite books of 2021. My parents met when my father was stationed in Japan during his time in the U.S. Navy. Brina’s biracial Asian American experience, and military father / immigrant mother family dynamics resonated with me like no other book I’ve read before. The major difference between Brina’s experience and mine is that my mother is fluent in English, while Brina’s mother was not. It made me deeply empathize with both Brina and her mother, and made me realize that I was so lucky that my mother and I were able to connect more deeply by sharing the same language. While I often complain that I didn’t learn enough Japanese from my mother, Brina illustrates the added frustration she had by not being able to communicate very well with her mother. Brina also notes throughout the book how she often misunderstood her mother when she was younger. Her memories and passages show how much embarrassment she had for her mother, and how she started to look down and devalue her after seeing others in their white community do the same. She also unknowingly held a lot of internalized racism, and tried to hide aspects of her Okinawan features and culture to assimilate. In addition to the chapters focused on her family and memories, there are also chapters written about Okinawa. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about Okinawa outside of it being a prefecture of Japan that’s very different than mainland Japan. I had no idea about the push and pull between China, Japan, and the U.S. for control of Okinawa. Control that they didn’t ask for. The Okinawan chapters are written in first person, and I found it to be a unique and effective way to depict their history. Brina covers the early history of Okinawa, the effects of WWII on Okinawans, establishment of U.S. military bases, relations between Americans and Okinawans (including interracial marriages, prostitution, and crimes), and the ongoing protests by Okinawans to be a free and independent country. The second to last chapter (named Free Okinawa) was a sobering account of how harmful these military bases have been to their people, culture, and resources – meanwhile, many Americans aren’t event aware of it. Overall, this book was powerful, enlightening, and likely very difficult and taxing for Elizabeth Miki Brina to write. I want to applaud her, and thank her for penning her experience for all of us to read. It’s a book I will continue to think about, and I highly recommend anyone and everyone to pick it up. For memoir lovers, readers wanting to read more about the biracial Asian American experience (especially if those readers are biracial themselves, or come from military families), or those looking to learn more about Okinawa. Thank you to Knopf to for this free review copy!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    “It took too long for me to admire my mother’s common sense and practical knowledge…to accept and appreciate my mother’s English. Her simplicity and directness.” These words set the stage for Elizabeth Miki Brina’s SPEAK, OKINAWA, the memoir of the daughter of an Okinawan woman and a Vietnam War veteran. Brina’s parents met while her father was stationed in Okinawa. Neither of them spoke the other’s language; when they wrote each other letters, they had to find translators for them. The language “It took too long for me to admire my mother’s common sense and practical knowledge…to accept and appreciate my mother’s English. Her simplicity and directness.” These words set the stage for Elizabeth Miki Brina’s SPEAK, OKINAWA, the memoir of the daughter of an Okinawan woman and a Vietnam War veteran. Brina’s parents met while her father was stationed in Okinawa. Neither of them spoke the other’s language; when they wrote each other letters, they had to find translators for them. The language barrier didn’t hinder their marriage, and Brina’s mother left her life of poverty to be an American soldier’s wife and live a comfortable life. Brina’s father pushed his wife to learn English, and, spending more than half her life in America, she wound up doing so, but it would never be her native tongue. Brina voices her struggle growing up with a mother with whom she didn’t share a language, one who pronounced her name differently than native English speakers would. She atones for her shame in her writing and acknowledges the practicality of using words so effectively like her mother. Anyone can see this while reading SPEAK, OKINAWA. Brina uses simple, direct language, often in the subject-verb-object format, to her advantage in order to paint blunt pictures, which reminds readers of her mother. While she may give Brina seemingly curt advice on breakups --- telling her to just move on because a boy does not love her --- the words are direct and true. This is the approach that Brina has taken to her memoir, which is not just about her life, but also about Okinawa. As its title suggests, this is her attempt at giving Okinawa the voice it has needed throughout history. Between chapters, she switches narratives from her perspective and the Okinawans --- there is even a chapter from the point of view of Americans serving under Commodore Perry in the 1850s. Each setting Brina paints is honest and, at times, brutal, whether it be a depiction of the Battle of Okinawa or an analysis of her parents’ marriage. It is important to remember why Okinawa’s story is relevant to Brina’s personal one. Of course, there is the simple answer: Her mother is Okinawan. Then the more complex answer: There is a lesson in the memoir and its themes, whether it is that Brina wants to make up for her internalized racism and ingratitude growing up, or that she wants to give her voice to a people who are deemed voiceless. Just as Brina mourns her inability to fully connect with her mother because of their language barrier, Brina decides to share the pains and joys of Okinawa to her western audience, the same West that helped Japan silence the island chain. We begin to understand a history that was unshared to us before, as well as its present issues. Brina’s awareness of her faults is as refreshing as it is hard to read. It can feel like we are reading about our own mistakes, but she does this to show that it is not too late to turn back and correct our wrongs. SPEAK, OKINAWA is a beautiful request, from the prodigal daughter of an oppressed land, to take the time to listen to one another. Reviewed by Margaret Rothfus

  15. 5 out of 5

    Weiling

    “Half of me uses the other half to maintain innocence” is the beginning of the end of a bubble. The bubble is a historical construct of identity, consciousness, and ideology whose inhabitants are trained to see separateness only, without being aware of the construct. Connectivity across boundaries is deemed transgression and transgression means bad, ugly, inferior, impure, punishable…to be redeemed by cleansing the non-civil (read: non-white) half. But being biracial is to live that transgressio “Half of me uses the other half to maintain innocence” is the beginning of the end of a bubble. The bubble is a historical construct of identity, consciousness, and ideology whose inhabitants are trained to see separateness only, without being aware of the construct. Connectivity across boundaries is deemed transgression and transgression means bad, ugly, inferior, impure, punishable…to be redeemed by cleansing the non-civil (read: non-white) half. But being biracial is to live that transgression, to live to unveil the absurdity of that bubble. Speak, Okinawa may be confusing with its title. Instead of a memoir of Okinawa, the brutal battleground in WWII, a more accurate definition of the book is an auto-ethnography. Naming it a memoir—finding history through the self—may risk appropriating the history of Okinawa, the author’s exploration of which only began recently and the beginning stance was none other than a spoiled white person. Here “white” is not skin color, but the cumulative result of maintaining white innocence. Any scant knowledge of Okinawa will not evade the fact that the small island between Taiwan and Japan was marred by US military bases. The connection to Okinawa through her mother only started to register and strike as she gradually learned to accept her marginality in white America. With a research (okay, it doesn’t have to be academic research, but it's still important for any attempt of spontaneous learning) still in its primary stage, the use of first-person plural pronouns walks a thin line between apologetic self-reflection and appropriation. To counterbalance it, “we” is also adopted in the colonial American side of the story, to which she again doesn’t feel associated. That history is simply physically distant from the author’s own life. What complicates the “memoir” even more is Brina's acknowledgement in a recent interview that she “just can’t write a story that’s not about [her].” Writing the book is about her, about her looking for her other half that she had tried to deny and reject. As an auto-ethnography, with beautiful language, the book does justice not to the colonial history of Okinawa (first from China, then Japan, and most horribly from the US), but to the continued wave of "decolonizing your education” in the US. It is a self-struggle, done in a critical, reflective, and embodied way, against the political and cultural ills of the US called white supremacy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    4.5 stars "Sometimes, in real life, change can happen in an instant. This change, this epiphany of connection, that her trauma is my trauma, that our pain comes from the same source--this change is permanent. But sometimes, at first, it doesn't last. It goes away and comes back. Then goes away and comes back Brina is the only child of an American soldier who "believes in the code of heroes, of men" & an Okinawan woman "born into poverty and chaos." Raised in the U.S. in white majority cities, s 4.5 stars "Sometimes, in real life, change can happen in an instant. This change, this epiphany of connection, that her trauma is my trauma, that our pain comes from the same source--this change is permanent. But sometimes, at first, it doesn't last. It goes away and comes back. Then goes away and comes back Brina is the only child of an American soldier who "believes in the code of heroes, of men" & an Okinawan woman "born into poverty and chaos." Raised in the U.S. in white majority cities, she adored her father & felt very detached from her mother, her Okinawan culture & history. Despite being fairly privileged & entitled, Brina felt like an outsider. Her father didn't learn Japanese, her mother struggled with English. Brina didn't try to learn about Okinawa or make an effort to learn Japanese until she was in her thirties. It's taken her most of her life to realize that her mother must have felt like an outsider as well. This book is not only her story, but her mother's, her father's, a story of their marriage with its power imbalance & flaws, its commitment & love. It is a story of the Okinawan people & the violence enacted upon them, their resilience & generosity. A self reckoning, a cultural reckoning, a love letter & an apology. This book is many things, many stories & Brina has told them all with insight & great love. A really good book, brutally honest & beautifully written. "But I must admit who half of me is, where half of me comes from: the long-standing tradition of conquest and absolution. Half of me was born with a sense of entitlement, a sense of the right to pursue happiness, to control and improve my life while taking for granted the resources and methods to do so, the mindset that if it doesn't work out it's not tough luck, it's a raw deal. Half of me is offended by the label of privilege, by the notion that there is no such thing as clean wealth, as pure good fortune. Half of me is afraid of accusation, of culpability, of guilt. Half of me uses the other half to maintain innocence. "

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leigh-Anne

    This memoir was not quite what I thought it would be. I picked it up because we are currently living in Okinawa and have lived here before. I loved how the author pieced parts of Okinawan history into her story. Her life has taken many dark and graphic turns with abuse both from herself and others. Some of the parts of her story were difficult to sit with. I will say, which will likely be an unpopular opinion but it is mine, that her chapter on the American military presence in Okinawa is a litt This memoir was not quite what I thought it would be. I picked it up because we are currently living in Okinawa and have lived here before. I loved how the author pieced parts of Okinawan history into her story. Her life has taken many dark and graphic turns with abuse both from herself and others. Some of the parts of her story were difficult to sit with. I will say, which will likely be an unpopular opinion but it is mine, that her chapter on the American military presence in Okinawa is a little naive, if that's the right word. I've often wondered if we need to have as many bases as we do here and as many airman, soldiers, marines stationed here. I, in no way, excuse the disgusting behavior of several military members here and their actions and it saddens me that they aren't dealt with justly. HOWEVER, if the US military left, what would happen? I've asked this and the simple answer is someone else would come in. Who would that someone be? Likely China. Would that be better for Okinawa? It's not right at all, but the location of this island is viewed as strategic for all these world powers and sadly they would fight for it. It may not be a good answer but unfortunately it may be the lesser of two evils? Just my own thoughts. I will never take lightly my families time in Okinawa. This is our home and I love the beautiful people and culture of this tiny island. I feel so blessed to have experienced it. I also think she didn't touch on how the Okinawans were treated by the Japanese during WWII. I went on a tour with a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa. She was a baby, hiding in the caves with her family, and her testimony of what her family experienced at the hands of Japan is gut wrenching. Again, the Okinawans were not treated well by many, but it can't be blamed on one entity.

  18. 4 out of 5

    christine liu

    Sometimes you read a book at the exact right time in your life, when the experiences you've had allow you to really absorb the words that someone else has assembled in perfect order, that's it's like the book has managed to illuminate some fundamental truth that you always knew but could never articulate. This is one of those books for me. I don't read memoirs often, but I devoured this gorgeously written book in one night, stopping only to mark the passages I wanted to reread and getting tissue Sometimes you read a book at the exact right time in your life, when the experiences you've had allow you to really absorb the words that someone else has assembled in perfect order, that's it's like the book has managed to illuminate some fundamental truth that you always knew but could never articulate. This is one of those books for me. I don't read memoirs often, but I devoured this gorgeously written book in one night, stopping only to mark the passages I wanted to reread and getting tissues when my tears obscured the words on the page. Speak, Okinawa is a rich and multilayered story of a woman reckoning with her own identity, the traumas that her parents carry with them, and the history of a unique place. Brina writes with luminous insight and astounding maturity about her experiences growing up as an American who was often treated as an outsider, of internalizing systemic racism and the impacts that had on her relationships with her white father and Okinawan mother, or her difficulties in connecting and relating to half of her identity. She explores her parents' struggles - her father as a Vietnam veteran who quietly carries PTSD and survivor's guilt with him every day of his life, and her mother as the fifth daughter of a poor family who saw marriage as an escape only to succumb to alcoholism when she found herself in a strange and alienating world that never truly welcomed her. And she recounts the history of Okinawan under Japanese and American occupation with haunting clarity. This is a rare and special book, and Elizabeth Miki Brina is a singular talent. I can't wait to read more from her.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Was intrigued by the memoir of this woman who has had to struggle with having a Vietnam war vet father and a Japanese mother. A mother of whom the author is ashamed of growing up. It's difficult for Brina as she feels no connection to her mother's heritage but also does not pass in upstate New York, where her parents settle. She tries to navigate life, growing up, her identity, her relationship with her parents, and more. The book interested me partially because I know someone who is not unlike t Was intrigued by the memoir of this woman who has had to struggle with having a Vietnam war vet father and a Japanese mother. A mother of whom the author is ashamed of growing up. It's difficult for Brina as she feels no connection to her mother's heritage but also does not pass in upstate New York, where her parents settle. She tries to navigate life, growing up, her identity, her relationship with her parents, and more. The book interested me partially because I know someone who is not unlike the author. Half white and half non-white, this person was also ashamed of their mom growing up. It was not something I really understood (and neither did this person), so I wondered what Brina's experiences might tell me. Setting aside my personal interest, I honestly did not understand the appeal of the book. It's a memoir written in fragments of memories, often moving back and forth in time. There is an odd sense of disconnection (although that's probably not unusual given what the author is covering) and it just felt like reading through someone else's journal entries. There's definitely a lot to consider: immigration, racism, misogyny, the perhaps uneven dynamic between her parents, the way children can be extremely cruel to each other for being different, and more. But after awhile I just did not understand what the author was trying to do and it felt more like a therapy session than anything else. I'm sure there are many who would enjoy this book and relate more to the author. Personally I found this skippable.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Tuite

    Reading 2021 Book 37: Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina I listened to this book on Audible. Chose it since we were stationed on Okinawa for three years. This book is part memoir and part history of the island of Okinawa. From Amazon: "A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman's journey to understanding her complicated parents—her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran—and her own, fraught cultural heritage. Decades later, Elizabeth comes to recognize the Reading 2021 Book 37: Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina I listened to this book on Audible. Chose it since we were stationed on Okinawa for three years. This book is part memoir and part history of the island of Okinawa. From Amazon: "A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman's journey to understanding her complicated parents—her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran—and her own, fraught cultural heritage. Decades later, Elizabeth comes to recognize the shame and self-loathing that haunt both her and her mother, and attempts a form of reconciliation, not only to come to terms with the embattled dynamics of her family but also to reckon with the injustices that reverberate throughout the history of Okinawa and its people. Clear-eyed and profoundly humane, Speak, Okinawa is a startling accomplishment—a heartfelt exploration of identity, inheritance, forgiveness, and what it means to be an American." As I said, since we lived on Okinawa for three years this book caught my attention immediately. The book delved into the troubled history with the military bases that are still on the island and that was something else that drew me to the book. Speak, Okinawa alternated between the author's personal struggles with being part Okinawan and part American with the history of the island. A story of one person's reckoning with their identity. This was a personal listen for me, and I would recommend to my friends that were stationed there as well. My rating 4 ⭐.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    I wanted to read Speak, Okinawa for two main reasons. First, I was intrigued by the mother-daughter relationship, particularly where the author’s mother is not very comfortable with English as was the case with my mother and step-mother. The second was from my own experience of living in Okinawa as a part-Japanese person and a military dependent. The memoir component hits deep on various emotional levels. It was interesting to see how the story developed through childhood, teenage years, and int I wanted to read Speak, Okinawa for two main reasons. First, I was intrigued by the mother-daughter relationship, particularly where the author’s mother is not very comfortable with English as was the case with my mother and step-mother. The second was from my own experience of living in Okinawa as a part-Japanese person and a military dependent. The memoir component hits deep on various emotional levels. It was interesting to see how the story developed through childhood, teenage years, and into adulthood. I also enjoyed reading the long and varied story of Okinawa. The historical components in regards to the island come across too long winded and don’t really relate to her relationship with her mother. The historical background vignettes relate more to her mother’s experiences. A person may get confused with the various flashbacks intertwined with her history, her mother’s history, her father’s history, and the history of the island. Throughout reading it, I was reminded of another mother/ daughter relationship taking place on the island of Okinawa-- Above the East China Sea. I really enjoyed reading this book. Okinawan people are incredible and amazing and I truly appreciate any medium that places recognition on this magical group of island and people. ***Thank you NetGalley for providing me with access to this e-preview. This review is based on an ARC.***

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Meyrink

    This is such a wonderful memoir. It tells Elizabeth Miki Brina’s personal story, her life growing up in the United States as a mixed race white and Okinawan woman as well as her mother’s life story marrying a American and moving to the United States. Throughout the memoir we also hear about the story of the Okinawan people as a whole, their colonization from Japan and the American military base that they have been protesting (and still are.) Because her mother is Okinawan and her father is a vet This is such a wonderful memoir. It tells Elizabeth Miki Brina’s personal story, her life growing up in the United States as a mixed race white and Okinawan woman as well as her mother’s life story marrying a American and moving to the United States. Throughout the memoir we also hear about the story of the Okinawan people as a whole, their colonization from Japan and the American military base that they have been protesting (and still are.) Because her mother is Okinawan and her father is a veterinarian is PTSD I really got a sense of how the systems of power and colonization only cause harm to everyone involved. Brina writes so honestly about herself and her faults and I really admire that. She wrote so truthfully about her exeroience of being mixed race and waning to be white as a child which I really related to. Through writing about this I saw such a relatable explanation of internalized racism and I loved hearing about how she did and is working to undo this though a connection to her mother and their shared history. The end of this book made me tear up. I didn’t know that much about Okinawa before reading this book but having read it my heart is with the people of Okinawa and their struggle for freedom. Free Okinawa.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    A memoir of the daughter of an American father and an Okinawan mother sounded interesting, but, man, is the author spoiled. She blames everything on racism, yet takes no responsibility for her decades of poor choices. For example, as a twelve-year-old she is furious that she has to spend the summer with her mother in Okinawa. Hello? She's twelve, so of course she has to go with her mother. Still, she sulks and resents this for years to come. Later, she aimlessly takes over 7 years to get her bac A memoir of the daughter of an American father and an Okinawan mother sounded interesting, but, man, is the author spoiled. She blames everything on racism, yet takes no responsibility for her decades of poor choices. For example, as a twelve-year-old she is furious that she has to spend the summer with her mother in Okinawa. Hello? She's twelve, so of course she has to go with her mother. Still, she sulks and resents this for years to come. Later, she aimlessly takes over 7 years to get her bachelor's degree, then travels all over the US, searching for meaning and sleeping around, all while her dad pays for everything. In the end, she does have some sympathy for her mother as they age and visit Okinawa again, but it seems too little, too late, too made for the memoir. She is also very heavy-handed with her idea that peaceful, idyllic Okinawa is a perpetual victim of American, Chinese, and Japanese colonization. I would like to read a more balanced history of the island instead of her one-sided one. I don't recommend this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karla Bays

    This book was so honest, so painful, so beautiful. Brina very bravely explores her relationships with her Okinawan mother and her American father - each complex and fraught and defining. It really feels as though she holds nothing back, which is rare. Chapter 8 is particularly affecting in its raw portrayal of her adolescence and her teenage lack of self-worth. Brina's retrospective self-awareness and shrewd understanding of how she developed into the woman she is today really moved me. As did h This book was so honest, so painful, so beautiful. Brina very bravely explores her relationships with her Okinawan mother and her American father - each complex and fraught and defining. It really feels as though she holds nothing back, which is rare. Chapter 8 is particularly affecting in its raw portrayal of her adolescence and her teenage lack of self-worth. Brina's retrospective self-awareness and shrewd understanding of how she developed into the woman she is today really moved me. As did her depiction of her parents' marriage. In Brina's specific story, there is so much that is universal as she slowly recognizes, understands, forgives and admires her parents as multi-faceted individuals beyond their effect on her personal development as parents. So much heart underlies the pain, shame and remorse that come up for Brina throughout her memoir. There is also a lot of arresting history interspersed with her story; although, because it isn't chronological, I came away with a somewhat impressionistic sense of Okinawa and its wounds. The narration is beautiful in the audiobook.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Colyforniaroll

    For once, a book has struck me so deeply that I find it difficult to portray my feelings. From the very beginning until the end, I had to read in fragments. Every word had such vulnerability that there were parts where I felt like Brina had read my thoughts only to voice it perfectly on the page. I knew that being half-Asian/half-white was not an experience solely my own of course, but to hear her speak about the guilt of siding with her white father, the shame and demoralization around dating a For once, a book has struck me so deeply that I find it difficult to portray my feelings. From the very beginning until the end, I had to read in fragments. Every word had such vulnerability that there were parts where I felt like Brina had read my thoughts only to voice it perfectly on the page. I knew that being half-Asian/half-white was not an experience solely my own of course, but to hear her speak about the guilt of siding with her white father, the shame and demoralization around dating as an Asian woman, the history of a culture so often turned away from the world, was so mesmerizing. The only word I can think of right now is surreal. When you start reading this book, you will be faced with your past, no matter who you are. While it is a memoir about her life, she also weaves her parents complicated love story in with the history of Okinawa. She connects the dots to her guilt, with the reconnection to her mother. It really is a love letter to her mom and her mom's family, so much so that she ends the book with an apology. I can quote a line from literally every chapter, but the one that absolutely broke me was chapter VII, "Miki". This book is a must read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    An all around great read for me. I think what was particularly impressive was the way the author wove the story of Okinawa into her own family story and the parallels that appear. And it is hard to tell which story is more shocking than the other. The author's family could be labeled as dysfunctional simply by virtue of the obvious communication issues and the environment that the author grew up in. Yet, family love shines through and it is clear that the author and other family members had very An all around great read for me. I think what was particularly impressive was the way the author wove the story of Okinawa into her own family story and the parallels that appear. And it is hard to tell which story is more shocking than the other. The author's family could be labeled as dysfunctional simply by virtue of the obvious communication issues and the environment that the author grew up in. Yet, family love shines through and it is clear that the author and other family members had very mixed emotions and actions going on. For anyone in a bicultural, biracial family this is going to evoke some feelings and memories of their own. The writing is starkly honest, but beautifully constructed. It is hard to reconcile the insightful writing of this tale with the picture the author paints of herself. She is still young and I ended up wondering what her life holds for her going forward. I suspect this will become a classic in the genre.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    This is the first memoir I’ve read so far this year and I absolutely loved it! This story is a tear jerker in some parts and funny in other parts and overall just a wonderful story about a wonderful family. The book is filled with lots of facts about Okinawa which I found very interesting. I am a military wife who had the honor of living in Okinawa for 6 years. All 3 of my sons were born in Okinawa so Okinawa will always and forever hold a special place in my heart. I worked side by side with th This is the first memoir I’ve read so far this year and I absolutely loved it! This story is a tear jerker in some parts and funny in other parts and overall just a wonderful story about a wonderful family. The book is filled with lots of facts about Okinawa which I found very interesting. I am a military wife who had the honor of living in Okinawa for 6 years. All 3 of my sons were born in Okinawa so Okinawa will always and forever hold a special place in my heart. I worked side by side with the Okinawan people aboard the base. I lived off base for the first year I was there and met so many wonderful people on the island in our 6 years there. My husband took a Japanese language college class while there so we can communicate the basic things with them. We loved our 6 years there and will always remember Okinawa and the people fondly. This book was a very good read. I highly recommend it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn Kriete

    I'm giving this five stars, even though I occasionally got annoyed with Brina's choppy style of writing--lots of short sentences, and serial sentences all starting with the same words. But this memoir really made me think about how it might feel to grow up mixed-race and ashamed of the fact, how it might feel to have a mother so isolated by language and culture, how it might feel to be the intense focus of two parents whose own relationship is so precarious and imbalanced, yet enduring. I loved I'm giving this five stars, even though I occasionally got annoyed with Brina's choppy style of writing--lots of short sentences, and serial sentences all starting with the same words. But this memoir really made me think about how it might feel to grow up mixed-race and ashamed of the fact, how it might feel to have a mother so isolated by language and culture, how it might feel to be the intense focus of two parents whose own relationship is so precarious and imbalanced, yet enduring. I loved how she traces these threads through so many years and brings herself--and her readers--to a richer understanding. The best part of this book is reaching the emotional last pages and seeing the beautiful photo of the author and her mother, obviously deeply bonded. Brina also gets five stars for telling her story truthfully, even when it makes her look awful. And I learned so much about Okinawa, a place I've always associated with American military bases and not much else.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dara (Dara Reads OK)

    I picked out Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina from a long list of spring memoirs. I was completely riveted by the story of Elizabeth, who grew up pushing away her immigrant Okinawan mother and immersing herself in the world of her white American father. As she becomes an adult she begins to realize how lonely her mother must have been in this foreign country where she sometimes has difficulty being understood by her own child. I was particularly moved by the author’s realization that she h I picked out Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina from a long list of spring memoirs. I was completely riveted by the story of Elizabeth, who grew up pushing away her immigrant Okinawan mother and immersing herself in the world of her white American father. As she becomes an adult she begins to realize how lonely her mother must have been in this foreign country where she sometimes has difficulty being understood by her own child. I was particularly moved by the author’s realization that she had been given an American name that was impossible for her mother to easily pronounce. Her inner struggle also plays out on a larger scale as the writer explores the continued American occupation of Okinawa, which I embarrassingly knew little about. A great read for anyone who enjoys reading stories about families and identity.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Real eye opener to Okinawa, and the mistreatment and suffering of the native Islanders - Okinawans throughout history from China, Japan and America. Author is very honest, about her own pain in dating relationships and feeling devalued. In learning the history of Okinawa and her mother's difficult childhood, she begins appreciating her Okinawan mother and American Soldier father. Seeing genuine love they have always had for her. She no longer is embarrassed by her Okinawan mother, mannerisms, cu Real eye opener to Okinawa, and the mistreatment and suffering of the native Islanders - Okinawans throughout history from China, Japan and America. Author is very honest, about her own pain in dating relationships and feeling devalued. In learning the history of Okinawa and her mother's difficult childhood, she begins appreciating her Okinawan mother and American Soldier father. Seeing genuine love they have always had for her. She no longer is embarrassed by her Okinawan mother, mannerisms, culture, language and personality. This book was of interest to me, a military brat who lived in Okinawa as a young child in both on and off base housing. My folks have many pictures of Okinawa, told me many stories and made many genuine Christian friends with Okinawan and military people. I won this book from Goodreads and the Author, Elizabeth Miki Brina. Thank you.

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