Book Review #46: Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir by Elizabeth Miki Brina (2021)

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir
Author: Elizabeth Miki Brina
Published: 2021 (Knopf Publishing, New York)
Pages: 289 (Hardcover)
Genres: Memoir, Autobiography, Asian Cultural, Nonfiction
CW: Loss, Violence, Xenophobia, Racism, War, Nationalism, Alcoholism
Link Here

My borrowed copy of Speak Okinawa next to a bowl of Cheerios

I hope everyone in the US had a great holiday weekend! This week I am back to talk about a book that took me quite some time to finish, but it was well worth it in the end. I finished the quite emotional and unforgettable memoir Speak, Okinawa by author Elizabeth Miki Brina (Elizabeth is a great name… by the way 😉). This is the first work I have read by Brina, and at first I was not sure what to think, but by the end I was touched by her words. It was definitely a rewarding read.

I believe we inherit sin as much as we inherit trauma. I believe inherited sin is its own form of trauma. But maybe we have a chance at redemption. By being aware, being honest. By giving up power. By letting the world change. By changing ourselves. By apologizing. By forgiving? What would atonement and forgiveness look like? Within a person, a family, a nation?” – Elizabeth Miki Brina, Speak, Okinawa

Speak, Okinawa is a memoir written about the author’s complicated relationship with her family growing up and into adulthood. Brina’s mother is a humble and spirited waitress from Okinawa who married her white blue-blooded American father while he was stationed as a soldier in Okinawa. After he brought his new wife back to the US and after they had Elizabeth, she began to struggle with fitting in, which affected both Elizabeth and her father in different ways. Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother turned into a struggle and the author describes the resentment and cruelty she showed her mother growing up. Brina also shares her internal struggle with identity, shame and the mistakes she made along the way. Brina focuses separately on her parents, and how her relationships with them formed her into the person she became and how they inspired her search of learning about the history of Okinawa.

America, you spend money on military than half of the world combined. America, why? Who threatens you? China? North Korea? Russia? Iran? So far, you have used our island to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan and Iraq again. 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!” – Elizabeth Miki Brina, Speak, Okinawa

I feel as though I won’t describe this book as well as I want to, but I wanted to emphasize how informative this memoir was more than anything. I learned a lot about the history of Okinawa, and I loved how the author turned the history into an informative narrative. As you may see by all the quotes I included in this review, the author provided a lot of backstory about the history, attitudes and feelings of the people of Okinawa. Plus I had no idea how involved the U.S. military was and still is there. I have not fact checked anything Brina cited though. Brina says her parent’s story inspired her to look into the history of the place of her heritage.

Since 1972, nearly nine thousand crimes – including murders by shooting, by stabbing, by strangulation, vehicular homicide, theft, arson, rape, sexual assault – have been committed by U.S. military personal stationed in Okinawa. One hundred sixty-nine court-martial cases for sexual assault – a higher record than at U.S. military bases in any other nation – have occurred in Okinawa. Today, twenty percent of Okinawan land mass is still controlled by the U.S. military. More land controlled by a foreign military than in any other nation” – Elizabeth Miki Brina, Speak, Okinawa

Speak, Okinawa was written like poetry, but also as an introspective narrative about carefully meditated thoughts from the author. Brina writes in an amazing way that is heartfelt yet intelligent in insight. Her writing is also succinct and to the point. For writing from solely her own perspective, she captures her parent’s feelings well in her writing from only many years of observation. This book had a lot of sad and grievous moments from the author’s life, but the lessons of forgiveness and seeking your identity were powerful.

Yet these memories are impossible to forget, regardless of whether we actually lived through them. I believe they stay in our bodies. As sickness, as addiction, as poor posture or a tendency toward apology, as a deepened capacity for sadness or anger. As determination to survive, a relentless tempered optimism. I believe they are inherited, passed on to us like brown eyes or the shape of a nose” – Elizabeth Miki Brina, Speak, Okinawa

Why should you read this book? If you enjoy memoirs and stories from an American Asian/biracial persons perspective, which covers significant and heartbreaking lessons of life in a humanistic way, this is the book for you. This book was difficult to read at times, but it was perfectly worth it. Overall, I loved Brina’s writing style, and her inward dialogue made the entire book.

I give this one a 4 out of 5!


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