By David Yamaguchi The North American Post
Among newer titles, two outstanding ones in the “hapa” memoir genre are Elizabeth Miki Brina’s “Speak, Okinawa” and Michelle Zauner’s “Crying in H-Mart” (both 2021, Knopf). Both skillfully interweave two storylines into one.
“Speak” makes clear how different Okinawa is from the Japanese mainland. While it is a part of Japan today, most of its history is entirely different.
Especially pivotal in Okinawan history is the wrecking of the island during the great WWII battle for which Americans remember the island. Then, thousands of its civilians were caught in the crossfire.
“Speak” also explains why many young hapa families in the U.S. today are from Okinawa: the island served as a R&R island for US soldiers during the Vietnam War. A large part of Brina’s story is the angst she felt growing up in white environments in the U.S. interior and on the East Coast. As she was commonly bullied, she grew up feeling alienated from both West and East.
In turn, “Crying” matters because it is likely to be made into a blockbuster Korean food movie that will introduce that cuisine to the western public in a big way.
The foodie and cooking descriptions, however, are overlaid on a deeper story of grief. Cooking is how the author handles the sudden death of her still-young mother from cancer. Through wandering the aisles of H-Mart, buying the familiar foods, and learning to fill her own refrigerator with jars of fermenting vegetables, she feels her mother’s continuing presence and love.