CHARACTERS ´ Above the East China Sea

SUMMARY Above the East China Sea

CHARACTERS ´ Above the East China Sea ✓ A Seattle Times Best Book of the YearIn her most ambitious moving and provocative novel to date Sarah Bird makes a stunning departure Above the East China Sea tells the entwined stories of two teenaged girls an American and an Okinawan whose lives are connected across seventy years by the shared experiE hardened mother cannot offer to the “Smokinawans” the “waste cases” who gather to get high every night in a deserted cove When even pills one hitters Cuervo Gold and a growing crush on Jake Furusato aren’t enough to soften the unbearable edge the desolate girl contemplates taking her own lifeIn 1945 Tamiko Kokuba along with two hundred of her classmates is plucked out of her elite girls’ high school and trained to work in the Imperial Army’s horrific cave hospitals With defeat certain Tamiko finds herself sueezed between the occupying Japanese and the invading Americans She believes she has lost her entire family as well as the island paradise she so loved and like Luz she aches with a desire to be reunited with her beloved sis. I have a new favorite book of the year Sarah Bird’s Above the East China Sea This is one of those deeply satisfying reads that works on many levels It moves among several settings the US military base on Okinawa in the present day and Okinawa outside of the base; Okinawa during World War II when the Island served as a defensive barrier between Japan and US warships; the Okinawan spirit world led by spirits called kamiThis book is the story of two young women and is narrated in their voices The first Luz James is a military brat a term she uses to describe herself daughter of a single mother Luz’s world has been torn apart by her older sister’s unexpected enlistment in the Air Force and her death in Afghanistan She is responding to her sorrow with drug use and risk taking common pastimes among her two groups of friends the “uasi” crowd composed of other military brats uasi because that’s the only sort of friendship one can establish with the constant moves of military life and the Smokinawans the local stonersThe second young woman is Tamiko Kokuba an Okinawan originally a fanatical supporter of Japan many Okinawans at the time considered it a compliment to be mistaken for Japanese who works in the cave hospitals set up on the island for the Japanese forces and who pregnant at age fifteen after being raped by soldiers on both sides of the conflict chooses to commit suicide Okinawan custom reuires recovery of the body and regular tending to the remaining bones in order to to have a life after death Because she has committed suicide by throwing herself into the sea and her body was never recovered Tamiko and her unknown child have been unable to move on Their spirits await guidance by the kami hoping the kami will provide them with a body whose spirit they can displace which will allow them to move on to the afterlife Tamiko spends the years as a waiting spirit by recounting her life story to her unborn childLuz and Tamiko’s paths cross in both literal and spiritual senses as Luz contemplates suicide and Tamiko waits for a body to house her spirit At several moments I was sure I’d guessed how these two different crises would be resolved but Bird’s nuanced story telling keeps adding complexity to the narrative taking it to deeper richer places than I’d imaginedI don’t want to say than this because readers deserve the pleasure of following the several paths of this novel without having parts of the narrative revealed ahead of time Whatever your preferred genre—history historical fiction contemporary fiction mystery fantasy—Above the East China Sea offers a satisfying read that will stay with you long after you close the book


Ter On an island where the spirits of the dead are part of life and your entire clan waits for you in the afterworld suicide offers Tamiko the promise of peace As Luz tracks down the story of her own Okinawan grandmother she discovers that if she surrenders to the most unbrat impulse and allows herself to connect completely with a place and its people the ancestral spirits will save not only Tamiko but her as well Propelled by a riveting narrative and set at the very epicenter of the headline grabbing clash now emerging between the great powers Above the East China Sea is at once a remarkable chronicle of how war shapes the lives of conuerors as well as the conuered and a deeply moving account of family friendship and love that transcends time. Ten years ago Sarah Bird's Yokota Officer's Club was one of my favorite books She returns to the world she knows well that of being a military dependent with this stunning original illuminating and multi layered story Two fifteen year old girls both living in Okinawa 70 years apart form the nexus of a complex beautifully realized story encompassing the grief beauty and turbulent history of Okinawa Okinawa was a colony of Japan with its own traditions language and strong spiritual connections The blurb above best describes the plot so I won't go further except to say this is a great read

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Above the East China SeaA Seattle Times Best Book of the YearIn her most ambitious moving and provocative novel to date Sarah Bird makes a stunning departure Above the East China Sea tells the entwined stories of two teenaged girls an American and an Okinawan whose lives are connected across seventy years by the shared experience of profound loss the enduring strength of an ancient culture and the redeeming power of family love Luz James a contemporary US Air Force brat lives with her strictly by the rules sergeant mother at Kadena Air Base in Okianawa Luz’s older sister her best friend and emotional center has just been killed in the Afghan war Unmoored by her sister’s death and a lifetime of constant moving from base to base Luz turns for the comfort her servic. “Above The East China Sea” is an outstanding ambitious tour de force historical novel You could say it’s taken me 4 years to finish this bookwhich is when I first met Sarah Bird while in Austin and heard her talk about her ‘then’ new book OhI bought her book was intrigued by this Caucasian woman and her own background she grew up in a military family earned the name ‘military brat constantly moving from country to country but I started and stopped my reading many times Strong memories of Okinawa stayed with Sarah Bird enough to write about itbut Okinawa was still a foreign name and place to me I’ve done homework since 4 years agoOnce I had a better experience about Okinawa myself I felt better about finishing the interweaving stories of the two young women who are the focus of this novel while in the context looking at how war shapes heroes villains families the young and old I’ve taken away new thinking about duty honor loyalty legacy I have tried to compare life today looking at ‘what’s similar’ to that in 1945 One thought that rings true for me and tragically sad is that it’s always the younger generation that pays the highest price for our mistakes A ‘little’ informationsome basic facts history for those interested as I knew next to nothing about Okinawa before this book — I’ll always associate this book with my expanded education of Okinawa the war people culture values traditions beliefs spirits of the dead from now on Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu Islands chain which is in Japan They have their own uniue culture It’s a little like Hawaii to Americans They live in Okinawa and they are Japanese Often when talking to foreigners they simply say they are Japanese it’s just easier But many of the Okinawans feel they have gotten the short shrift for a few centuries They don’t appreciate many of the decisions made on the mainland half reaching ramifications on their little island In this storywe learn about the “Battle of Okinawa” from the perspective of the Okinawan people themselves The battle was 82 days long setting this story during the 3 day Obon Festival which is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestor’s Kami are spiritsthey are both positive negative having good and evil characteristics During the war itself the Okinawan civilians believed the Japanese leaders would definitely be on their side and save them from when the Americans came in and attacked But after the battle they were left wondering who there enemy really was Part 1UNKEK The first DayWelcoming the Dead HomePage 1 starts smack in the middle of dangerThe first sentence begins with “The choking black smoke from the fires raging rises up trying to claim me and my child”Further down on page 1 “The soldiers either Japanese or American will kill us as soon as the sunrises We cannot die such a violent death If we do we will be condemned to haunt this place for ever and never be reunited with our clan I won’t permit my child to endure such a cruel fate” Further down next few pages “Jump or don’t jump” Luz James is contemplating suicide She is a contemporary US Air Force brat living with her single mother a sergeant at the air base Luz is grieving having recently lost her sister to death and best friend who was killed in the Afghan war Tamiko Kokuba a native Okinawan about the same age as Luz was attending an elite high school when she was picked to train and work in the Imperial Army’s cave hospitals The conditions are horrific she thinks she has lost her familyand wants to enter the afterworld join her ancestors — also contemplating suicide As you might guess Luz and Tamiko cross paths Their voices are completely distinct This book really is a little like the Okinawan Wonderful Wizard of Ozwith entertaining storytelling and educational history If the characters and history don’t move you and or open your eyes the setting and descriptions just might “That every one of the 2046 ancestors of our munchu for ten generations into the past would meet there after death to feast on pigs ears in vinegar sweet potato in green tea sauce Stirfried bitter melon and pork stewed in suids ink all washed down with cool wheat tea sweetened with black sugar for the children and millet brandy for the adults That we would dance beneath the vast roof of a banyan tree while our legendary great great great grandfather Ryo plucked tunes from his sanshin That that timid dwarf deer the emerald frog the long haired mouse and the orchard leaf butterfly will all emerge from hiding to marvel at the beauty of our movements the liveliness of our steps” This highly imaginable historical novel is ineffable too great to be expressed in words5 strong stars