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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 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.
About the Author
ELIZABETH MIKI BRINA is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Bread Loaf Scholarship and a New York State Summer Writers Institute Scholarship. She currently lives and teaches in New Orleans.
"In Speak, Okinawa, Elizabeth Miki Brina beautifully combs a lifetime of memory, love, loss, and the connections that bind us to one another. In exploring how one comes to be, Brina’s prose illuminates and dazzles—and we see, in the end, what was intangible made clear in her writing. Speak, Okinawa is indelible, and Brina’s words are unforgettable.” —Bryan Washington, author of Memorial
“Speak, Okinawa is the book I’ve needed my entire life. Elizabeth Miki Brina plumbs the depths of mixed-race girlhood, parental love and harm, and the daily, intimate aches of growing up between cultures. This is a book that gives feelings—however fleeting—clear form. I urge everyone to read it.”—Jessica J. Lee, author of Two Trees Make a Forest, winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize
"Speak, Okinawa is the rarest of books: as expansive as a history, propulsive as a novel, and intimate as a confession. It reads like a great consciousness springing to life. This book is more than an eye-popping debut, more than the introduction of a hugely talented writer. It is a time machine, a love letter, a revelation, a triumph. We are lucky to have it.”—M.O. Walsh, author of My Sunshine Away and The Big Door Prize
"In America, we rarely inherit language for grappling with the fraught legacies of family and identity, memory and erasure, empire and occupation. But in Speak, Okinawa, Elizabeth Miki Brina bravely charts a path toward self-recognition and reconciliation, with prose so powerful and pristine it often left me hovering at the edge of tears. This is a bracing, luminous debut that will long be remembered, and long turned to for inspiration.”—Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River
"I was completely transported by this memoir. At once a reckoning with cultural and personal identity, a revealing journey into one family’s experience, and an important examination of a beloved, too-often overlooked island and its people, Speak, Okinawa is a phenomenal piece of work. I can’t wait for this moving story to be shared with the world.”—Sarah Bird, author of Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen
“A guilty and ultimately redemptive love letter to a mother. This book is medicine in its anguished honesty, countering the poison of internalised racism.”—Jay Griffiths, author of A Country Called Childhood
“Brina captivates in her stunning and intimate debut memoir . . . This nuanced tale goes both wide and deep, and is as moving as it is ambitious. Memoir lovers will be enthralled.”—Publishers Weekly
“Deeply human . . . A forthright and tunneling inquiry into how the author came to understand the many inherited layers of herself and her racial identity . . . Artfully concerned with the DNA-altering effects of trauma and the almost unfathomable power of language, Brina’s work opens a window on a lifelong search for peace, and the life-giving work of listening.”
—Annie Bostrom, Booklist (starred)
“A masterful debut . . . A can’t-miss memoir that will stay with readers after they finish the last page.”
—Library Journal (starred)
“A gorgeous literary memoir of inner exploration and the search for identity.”
—Zibby Owens, Good Morning America