Set on the island of Okinawa today and during World War II, this deeply moving and evocative novel tells the entwined stories of two teenage girls-an American and an Okinawan-whose lives are connected across 70 years by the shared experience of both profound loss and renewal.
Luz, a contemporary U.S. Air Force brat, lives with her no-nonsense sergeant mother at Kadena Air Base. Luz's older sister, her best friend and emotional center, has died in the Afghan war. Unmoored by her death, unable to lean on her mother, Luz contemplates taking her own life. In l945, Tamiko has lost everyone-the older sister she idolized and her entire family-and finds herself trapped between the occupying Japanese and the invading Americans whom she has been taught are demons that live to rape. On an island where the spirits of the dead are part of life and the afterworld reunites you with your family, suicide offers Tamiko the promise of peace. As Luz tracks down the story of her own Okinawan grandmother, she discovers that the ancestral spirits work as readily to save her as they do to help Tamiko find a resting place. And as these two stories unfold and intertwine, we see how war and American occupation have shaped and reshaped the lives of Okinawans.
About Sarah Bird
Sarah Bird is the author of seven previous novels. She is a columnist for Texas Monthly and has contributed to many other magazines including O, The Oprah Magazine; The New York Times Magazine; Real Simple; and Good Housekeeping. Sarah, the 2010 Johnston Dobie Paisano Fellow, makes her empty nest in Austin, Texas.
Advance Praise for Sarah Bird's Above the East China Sea
"Above the East China Sea is Sarah Bird's most powerful novel yet. This tour de force of historical imagination cuts between the bloody, beleaguered Okinawa of 1945 and its seemingly peaceful incarnation in the present time. But the island is far from peaceful; beneath the surface of things, war continues to roil and trouble this profoundly damaged place. By interweaving the stories of two young women separated by time and culture, Bird has given us a profoundly moving meditation on war, family, love, and what might be waiting for us on the other side of loss."
--Ben Fountain, winner of 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award finalist.
“Sarah Bird, a brilliant and accomplished novelist, has topped herself with this uncommonly powerful, beautifully rendered novel. Above the East China Sea is a compelling tale of love, loss, and the desperate search for closure, wrapped in a gripping mystery that must be worked out against the backdrop of a fascinating culture that is as little known to Americans as it is important. This book rings true on all its levels. From the stresses of a military family to the banter of American teens. From the power of an ancient culture to the tragedy of war and its aftermath. This story is unlike any I’ve read before. I will never think of Okinawa, or war, or belonging, in the same way again. Above the East China Sea will stay with me forever.”
--Mary Wertsch, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress
“Informed by her research in Okinawa’s history and literature, novelist Sarah Bird combines the saga of an Okinawan high school girl drafted to serve in 1945 as a combat medic during the Battle of Okinawa with the story of an American military dependent sent with her family to the vast complex of U.S. bases in Okinawa where troops train today for the war in Afghanistan. The loss of family members in war and rituals for communicating with spirits of the dead connect these two narratives which take place in disparate times and cultures, but in the same lush environment of this sub-tropical island. Bird portrays characters among Okinawans from many walks of life in the 1930s and 1940s with remarkable fullness and credibility. This double drama held me rapt throughout, enhanced by the author’s first-hand knowledge of growing up in a military family overseas and her ever-sharp ear for raw and raunchy teenage dialogue.”
--Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, Brown University