Summary and book reviews of The Yokota Officers Club by Sarah Bird

The Yokota Officers Club

by Sarah Bird

The Yokota Officers Club
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2001, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2002, 400 pages

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Book Summary

'Who else can write about dancing, music, JP-4 fuel, the military, and strawberries, make it funny, and also make it about matters of the heart? Only Sarah Bird. This is her best book yet, a big book that you'll want to read again as soon as you finish it the first time.'

Sarah Bird’s gutsy, sharp, and touching new novel opens at full speed.

Bernadette "Bernie" Root, military brat, speaks. She has never really noticed what a peculiar bunch of nomads her eight-member Air Force family is (with the exception of her Post Princess sister, Kit), until the summer after her first year of college when she joins them at their new assignment: Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

Just as Okinawa turns out to be a sorry version of the Japanese paradise Bernie knew in her childhood at Yokota Air Base, her family, especially her once-beautiful mother, Moe, and her former spy-pilot father, Mace, seems to have been in decline since those glory days of the American Raj. Days when her mother was happy and their best friend, Fumiko, now lost to them, was the family’s maid. The worst part of Okinawa for Bernie, though, is realizing how perfectly she fits with her oddball family and how badly she needs to get out.

So when a dance contest first prize, a trip to Japan, offers a chance to escape, she takes it, playing second banana to a third-rate comedian on a tour of Japan’s military bases. At their grand finale at the Yokota Officers’ Club, Fumiko finally reappears, and Bernie discovers the terrible price that is paid when the secrets nations hide end up buried within families.

White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Dependents of the United States Air Force:

Welcome to your new duty assignment, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

Okinawa is the principal island of the 160 islands that make up the Ryukyu archipelago. Only 67 miles long and from 2 to 17 miles wide, Okinawa is often referred to as the "Keystone of the Pacific" because of its strategic Far East location roughly 900 miles from Tokyo, Manila, Seoul, and Hong Kong.

Originally an independent nation, Okinawa has endured long periods of both Chinese and Japanese domination. After World War II, the island remained under U.S. military control. The United States will continue its custodianship as long as conditions of threat and tension exist in the Far East.

Bear in mind as you begin your tour that the serviceman's family is just as much a representative of the United States Government as the serviceman himself.

Your President and Commander in Chief,

Lyndon Baines Johnson


On the map on the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Smells play a major role in The Yokota Officers Club. They are even used as titles for each chapter. What effect did they have on you as a reader?

  2. The central image/metaphor of the book is the perfume factory. At the end of the book, Bernie says: "That honeysuckle is but one link in an endless limbic chain that contains all the smells of my family and of our life together." Then she goes on to name all the smells in the book, concluding that "each smell is a blossom that combines with all the other smells the same way real flowers would in a real perfume factory where the days of sunshine and growing, the days of storm and drought, the times of plenty, times of want, what the flowers got, what they didn't get, they're all squeezed ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Bernie is an original with her own voice, a believably awkward mix of sassy attitude and breathless insights, but she marches too much in lockstep with her creator's overly schematic plotting. Like everyone else, she's under orders.

School Library Journal - Lynn Nutwell

Bird has created a deftly choreographed journey of the heart, delicate and nuanced in its disclosure of painful family secrets, yet liberally seasoned with robust humor....A beautifully paced story, especially recommended for (but not limited to) any locale with a military base nearby. Adult/High School.

Library Journal - Beth E. Andersen

Bird nails the voice of Bernie in a delicate balance of confused, shy child vs. the bright emerging woman she has become. Bird's masterly use of the tricky technique of children revealing adult subtleties is breathtaking. An even trickier technique, smoothly moving from the scene-setting, literally translated bar-girl English of Fumiko to the proper English Bernie hears, puts the reader right in the middle of all the heartache....Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Stephen Harrigan
The miracle of The Yokota Officers Club is that it defies the laws of its own gravity. How can a story about dispossession and unspeakable loss, about fading national glory and family heartbreak, be so consistently--and authentically--hilarious? Sarah Bird's novel is an unforgettable melding of exuberant wit and deep compassion.

Author Blurb Clyde Edgerton
Who else can write about dancing, music, JP-4 fuel, the military, and strawberries, make it funny, and also make it about matters of the heart? Only Sarah Bird. This is her best book yet, a big book that you'll want to read again as soon as you finish it the first time.

Author Blurb Rick Bass
Sweet, powerful, and terrifying, Sarah Bird's talent, always substantial, achieves in The Yokota Officers Club an even greater depth and force that is nothing less than wondrous. This book is a beautiful and breathtaking treasure, and I thank her for it.

Author Blurb Mary Edwards Wertsch, author of Military Brats Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress
The first half of this book will make you scream with laughter. The second half will tear your heart out. Very few novelists have gotten the military brat story right. Believe me, Sarah Bird gets it right. For the first time we have a writer as dead-on as Pat Conroy, but from the daughter's point of view. We are so very lucky that Sarah Bird has brought her immense talents to the telling of our story.

Author Blurb Roy Blount, Jr.
From the family car to forbidden airspace, this is a wonderful book. If you've ever been a sibling, a parent, a spy, a spouse, a flyer, a teenager, an entertainer, an outsider.... Or if you've ever felt trapped.

Author Blurb Shelby Hearon
Sarah Bird's world, viewed through the eyes and memories of a sassy Air Force brat, is our world tender, hurtful, complex, unexplained. She captures the certainty we all have growing up, that we are the serpent who drove our parents out of the Eden of our childhood. Funny, wrenching, singularly moving, The Yokota Officers Club is a marvelous story. You'll want to share it with everyone who knew you when.

Author Blurb Lee Smith
A bittersweet and often funny novel about being different; about secrets; and about what happens when the luster fades. Sarah Bird is a wonderful writer.

Reader Reviews

Stephanie Peterson

One of the best books I've read, Hands Down.
Once I picked this book up I couldn't put it down! It was so beautifully written, I just KNEW I was there with her as she went on her adventure through her past. It had such a surprising impact on me! At the beginning, I was thinking, "Oh, this will ...   Read More

BookBrowse

BookBrowse.com - Davina
Well worth reading, and especially recommended as a book club choice, particularly for mother-daughter book clubs, or for groups with connections to the military.

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