The family story is interwoven with the mind-bendingly unfortunate history of Okinawa, which is recounted here in fascinating, vivid historical asides. As Miki Brina ages, she comes to identify more strongly with her mother’s roots and strives to find the kind of peace of mind that comes with accepting that you can be two things at the same time. Her writing is so warm and honest that you find yourself rooting for her and her parents, thrilled at her “adult learner” conversations with her mother in stilted Japanese, willing them all to find a way to understand one another. This is quite simply a brilliantly original and affecting memoir.
Starting with the third-world poverty of her own Okinawan family, she takes us through the island’s agony at the hands of its Japanese colonisers: how civilians, including Okinawan children, are rolled out on the front line to protect the Japanese, who abuse, kill and force them to commit suicide; how everything in Okinawa is ‘crushed and burned’, a third of the island’s population killed while the rest hide starving in caves, and the consequent ravages of the US occupation. We hear of grand-parents left to die in a hole. When ‘we’ return for their bones the Americans have built a road over it. One thousand women and girls are raped in America’s camps as land is seized at gunpoint to build more bases and store nuclear and chemical weapons.