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by Sarah Bird

Pub Date: May 27th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-35011-2
Publisher: Knopf

The devastating Battle of Okinawa looms large in the lives of two young women—one who lived through the carnage, another who is absorbing its spiritual aftereffects.

The ninth novel by Bird (The Gap Year, 2011, etc.) alternates between two narrators at two points in time. One is Tamiko, a teenage girl who, during World War II, was separated from her family thanks to both the Japanese soldiers who ran roughshod over the island of Okinawa’s native culture and the American soldiers who brutalized its landscape. The other is Luz, a teenage Air Force brat who, in the present day, has just moved to Okinawa with her mother. Luz’s grandmother was Okinawan, but she feels disconnected: The abrupt change of scenery, combined with mourning the death of her sister in Afghanistan, has left her listless and wayward. So when she sees a horrifying vision of a dying woman and child one night at the beach, is she hallucinating or witnessing something more serious? It’s the latter, as Bird’s braided narrative slowly makes clear, and her novel is rich with detail on Okinawan religious lore about lost souls. Tamiko’s and Luz’s narratives make for interesting tonal counterpoints to each other. Tamiko’s story is foursquare and mordant, focused as it is on war’s devastation; Bird writes potently of her being thrust into the role of a Princess Lily girl, a young nursing assistant helping the demoralized Japanese soldiers. Luz’s story is no less concerned with loss, but it’s lighter on its feet, making room for her comic banter with friends and a growing crush on one of her new Okinawan acquaintances. Though the novel occasionally feels bogged down by Bird’s research, she sensitively connects her two sharp narrators.

An admirable study of war’s impact on and legacy in an underdiscussed place.