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Obasan by Joy Kogawa

Obasan (original 1981; edition 1994)

by Joy Kogawa (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1512510,743 (3.78)100
Authors:Joy Kogawa (Author)
Info:Anchor (1993), Edition: Reprint, 300 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, japanese-canadians, wwii, racism, canada, joy kogawa

Work details

Obasan by Joy Kogawa (1981)

  1. 20
    Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel by David Guterson (kiwidoc)
    kiwidoc: Explores the WW2 Japanese internment in America.
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    A Child in Prison Camp by Shizuye Takashima (SylviaC)
    SylviaC: These books are both about young children of Japanese descent, living in Canadian internment camps. A Child in Prison Camp is a memoir, beautifully illustrated by Takashima. Obasan is a novel based on Kogawa's childhood memories.
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» See also 100 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Joy Kogawa's novel, OBASAN, first published nearly forty years ago, has become a minor Canadian classic. Its narrator, Naomi Nakane, a school teacher, looks back thirty years at her childhood spent in a desolate Japanese-Canadian internment camp near the tiny "ghost town" of Slocan during WWII, remembering the racism and discrimination and the quiet stoicism of her grandmother and uncle, who raised her and her older brother, Stephen. The family comes together again when her uncle dies, and the dark secrets of what happened to her parents in those years are revealed. But perhaps the most startling part of Kogawa's story for me is how the Canadian government continued to discriminate against its Japanese-Canadian citizens AFTER the war, denying them the opportunity to return to their homes in the west, instead pressing them to either move east or "repatriate" back to Japan. Naomi's family lived in a shed on a sugar beet farm in Alberta and worked like slaves for years.

Of course, the U.S. has its own shameful history of its treatment of Japanese-Americans during the war. I remember reading FAREWELL TO MANZANAR many years ago - another book that has attained that status of minor classic.

OBASAN is a sad, disturbing, and beautifully written little book. Very highly recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | May 16, 2019 |
Review: Obasan by Joy Kogawa. 06/18/2017

The book wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was interesting, heartwarming and really deep and emotional. Joy Konawa intertwines a seamless story that stretches between generations and spans continents and decades with an eternalized style. The story is told through the eyes of a child. Naomi Nakane starts the story with the death of her Uncle and her thoughts take her back to the time she spent with her uncle and Obasan, which means Aunt in Japanese. Naomi remembers many events from her childhood during the WWII.

Throughout the haunting story Naomi remembers how the Canadian people shunned her family and what they had to do to survive even though they were Canadian citizens themselves because of their background and the color of their skin. The author (also Japanese Canadian) writes how unwarranted and inhumane the treatments of these people were. She shows how in the time of a war how people can turn against each other.

It’s really a thought provoking story and Naomi being only five-years-old had no chance to grow up normal especially when her mother left her to go back to Japan before the war and never came back. Her father died of tuberculosis in the camp, her father’s parents also died in the camps, and her mother’s parents died in Japan during the bombings. It took some time to read because it was so dense with words from the heart revealing a history that not many know and many who do not talk about.

“Obasan’s power comes from the beauty of the writing, the stark imagery and vivid symbolism, and from the calm recitation of events that destroyed families, a culture and a way of life.”---The Globe and Mail (Canada)

“The dreams, the silence that cannot speak, the love that is voiceless and yet vivid, the grief that cries out loudly and yet unheard…”---C.E. Stevens ( )
1 vote Juan-banjo | Jun 22, 2017 |
I don't think a person can live in Canada without shame after reading this book. ( )
  rastamandj | Jun 14, 2017 |
Powerful novel about a Japanese Canadian family during WW2 and aftermath. Canada's exclusion and internment policies were draconian, even more so than the US's, and this book explores the traumas inflicted by those policies. The conclusion of the novel unravels a mystery that is as shocking as it is heartbreaking. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Naomi Nakane lives in British Columbia and while sheltered by her parents from the many realities of being Japanese in a racist society, she lives a happy cultured life. In 1941, her mother goes to Japan to look after Naomi"s grandmother. After December 7, 1941, her mother is trapped in Japan for the duration. To protect Naomi, her aunt & uncle never tell her the truth about what happen to her mother who was in Nagasaki the day the second Atomic Bomb was dropped.

Meanwhile the Canadian Japanese many of whom were Canadian citizens were force ably removed from the BC coast and forfeited most of their possessions including cars and fishing boats. After the War, they were not compensated for these items and were resettled on the Prairies or further east. British Columbia was not an option. Kogawa vividly describes the trauma of the removal of the family from their home and sent to live in Slocan in a wooden barracks that was not built for the cold winters. This is a part of Canada's history of which we are not proud.

After the War, Naomi continued to with her aunt & uncle living a sheltered life in a Japanese environment. Her brother refused to "be Japanese" and lived the life of a famous concert violinist and rarely visiting her or his aunt & uncle because they were too Japanese. She always waited for Mother to contact her not realizing that her Mother had eventually died in Japan. ( )
  lamour | Jun 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Obasan's power comes from the beauty of the writing, the stark imagery and vivid symbolism, and from the calm recitation of events that destroyed families, a culture, and a way of life.
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This book is dedicated to my mother and father and to those amazing people, the Issei - the few who are still with us and those who have gone.
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The coulee is so still right now that if a match were to be lit, the flame would not waver.
She takes half a piece of leftover toast and puts it away in a square plastic container. The refrigerator is packed with boxes of food bits, slices of celery, a square of spinach, half a hard-boiled egg. She orchestrates each remainder of a previous dinner into a dinner to come, making every meal like every meal, an unfinished symphony. Our Lady of the Leftovers.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
This powerful, passionate and highly acclaimed novel tells, through the eyes of a child, the moving story of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Naomi is a sheltered and beloved 5 year old when Pearl Harbor changes her life. Separated from her mother, she watches bewildered as she and her family become enemy aliens, persecuted and despised in their own land. Surrounded by hardship and pain, Naomi is protected by the resolute endurance of her aunt, Obasan, and the silence of those around her. Only after Naomi grows up does she return to question that haunting silence.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385468865, Paperback)

Based on the author's own experiences, this award-winning novel was the first to tell the story of the evacuation, relocation, and dispersal of Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:02 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The narrator learns about the experiences of her grandmother, Obasan, who was among those Japanese Canadians relocated to internment camps at the beginning of World War II.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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