Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Yokota Officers Club: A Novel by Sarah Bird

Having put a decade between my first readings of a couple of hometown-hero Sarah Bird’s books, I decided it was time for a re-read. I started with The Flamenco Academy, but that ended tragically one night when I stumbled into the bathroom in the dark and unknowingly knocked the book off the bathroom counter into the commode and then peed on it - twice.

Discombobulated, but not deterred, I simply moved on to another Bird best-seller The Yokota Officers Club which is about a large American family living the unique, nomadic military life, and what that lifestyle and extraordinary immersion into world politics does to the family dynamic.  Having spent many summers traveling to England, Spain, California and other far-fetched destinations to be with my sister and her Air Force Captain husband and their five kids, I related personally to Bird’s story, which is based closely on her own military brat experience.

The Yokota Officers Club takes place on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, where former spy pilot Major Mace Root and his road-weary wife Moe and their six kids struggle for identity within the context of the controversial Vietnam War, life amongst the dishonored Japanese, Okinawans demanding the military get out of their country, and declining global respect for the “ugly Americans”.

Oldest daughter Bernie has just returned from her first year of college stateside, where anti-war demonstrations are being played out on every campus. Dad has been grounded to a desk job, an administrative demasculinization. Mom, once the beautiful, model military wife, taking the brunt of her husband’s demoralization, has surrendered to “prince valium”. Bernie’s younger sister, Kit, has turned into an untethered and too popular teen. The youngest, Bosco, has become the family doomsayer, and the boys are just running wild. The house is a mess since Fumiko their maid of many years was banished (the story within the story), and the yard is unmowed. Military regulations forbid disorder of any type, and the family is in peril of “reassignment” to the American Military equivalent of a Gulag.
As the oldest, Bernie feels compelled to fix her family, but it’s all just too much. At her mother’s insistence, she enters and beats her prima donna sister in a dance contest, providing a brief escape while she tours American bases in Japan with the contest host, a colorful comedian/celebrity. While there, Bernie reunites with Fumiko and learns what family tragedy really looks like.

There’s a certain safety to struggling on your own soil and a certain bravery and dignity required to survive struggles when you can’t go home.  Although the story of the Root family is fraught with drama, Bird (pictured), in her inimitable style, entertains us and makes us laugh, and we relate to the Root family because they do what all families do: They fear, fight, cry, forgive, laugh and grow together. If you are from a military family, or any family, or if you simply love a good story, you will enjoy The Yokota Officers Club.

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