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Obasan Paperback – December 27, 1993

81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This quiet novel burns in your hand." --Washington Post.

From the Publisher

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. "This quiet novel burns in your hand." --Washington Post.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385468865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385468862
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

About Joy

Joy Kogawa was born in Vancouver in 1935 to Japanese-Canadian parents. During WWII, Joy and her family were forced to move to Slocan, British Columbia, an injustice Kogawa addresses in her 1981 novel, Obasan. Kogawa has worked to educate Canadians about the history of Japanese Canadians and she was active in the fight for official governmental redress.

Kogawa studied at the University of Alberta and the University of Saskatchewan. Her most recent poetic publication is A Garden of Anchors. The long poem, A Song of Lilith, published in 2000 with art by Lilian Broca, retells the story of Lilith, the mythical first partner to Adam.

In 1986, Kogawa was made a Member of the Order of Canada; in 2006, she was made a Member of the Order of British Columbia. In 2010, the Japanese government honored Kogawa with the Order of the Rising Sun "for her contribution to the understanding and preservation of Japanese Canadian history.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By C. E. Stevens VINE VOICE on February 17, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I finished Obasan, I felt blown away. This is not just a great piece of Japanese Canadian literature, this is a great book, period. The Internment of Japanese American/Canadian citizens during World War II is a subject that is widely unknown, and a topic that few novelists have been able to capture with as much skill as Kogawa.
"Obasan" weaves a seamless tale that stretches between generations and spans continents and decades with an almost dreamlike quality. As other reviewers have commented (lamented?) about, there are many dream sequences, all of which have significance as the story is unveiled. The dreams, the "silence that cannot speak," the love that is voiceless and yet vivid, the grief that cries out loudly and yet unheard ... the power of Kogawa's writing lies in being able to interpret and experience this imagery, and feel the pain of the internment as if doing so first hand.
I was surprised to see the number of negative reviews this book has received here ... I feel compelled to include my voice with those who thoroughly recommend this book. "Obasan" is the best novel on the internment I have yet to come across, and certainly among the most powerful books I have read. Although Kogawa writes of a silence that does not speak, she breaks the silence beautifully with "Obasan," revealing a history that many do not know, and many do not talk about. This is a story that must be remembered and retold ... so history does not repeat itself.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By S. Moore in Arlington, TX on May 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Obasan is a fictional account of what actions the Canadian government took to control Japanese-Canadians during WWII. Kogawa tells an undeniably historical story about the internment of Japanese-Canadians and its effect on families. She chronicles the journey of a young Japanese-Canadian as she confronts and accepts her past. Kogawa uses a unique point of view, extended metaphors, and official as well as personal documents and letters to tell her story.
Obasan is told through the eyes of Naomi Nakane, a Canadian-born Japanese woman. The story is often hard to understand because it is told from 36-year old Naomi through flashbacks. Throughout her life Naomi has tried hard to forget about her painful past, but her strong-willed Aunt Emily helps her remember. Thus Kogawa starts her use of flashbacks, skipping around the years of Naomi's life often making it hard to piece her life together. Kogawa tells much of Naomi's story from the eyes of a young child, which helps the reader see the internment of Japanese-Canadians more truthfully.
Kogawa also uses extended metaphors throughout her novel. One example is her continual comparison of Japanese-Canadians to birds. The birds in the book are always weak, helpless, and at the mercy of others. By her use of this metaphor, Kogawa is saying that the Japanese-Canadians are controlled by and at the hands of white Canadians. Another more horrific metaphor she uses to portray the same belief is in comparing the treatment of the Japanese in Canada to young Naomi being raped as a child. The rape and molestation of Naomi when she was four-years old permeates the entire book. It illuminates Kogawa's belief that the Japanese-Canadians were being horribly taken advantage of by their own government during and after WWII.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
Based on Joy Kogawa's personal experiences, Obasan reveals the Japanese-Canadian conditions during World War II. Kogawa recalls the removal, exile, and dispersion of first and second generation Canadians of Japanese descent through the eyes of Megumi Naomi Nakane, a Japanese-Canadian born June 18, 1936 in Vancouver, British Columbia (9). Using diverse voices, Kogawa employs personal accounts, symbolic dreams, childhood tales, traditional lyrics, intimate letters and official documents that intermesh and unleash various perspectives. Obasan captures a culture's unique use of language in regard to how people communicate within their culture as well as how their communication is influenced by other cultures; Obasan is a lesson in traditional values, religious beliefs, and recent history.
Naomi's interactive experiences model how traditional values are passed from generation to generation. She develops communication skills and proper etiquette from her elders, which are either reinforced or altered as a result of her environment. One tradition instilled in Naomi is the language of eyes. For generations, her family has invoked beliefs that eye contact should not contradict intent. For example, to stare in any situation would be considered disrespectful, so unless one's intent is to disrespect someone, one should never stare. Naomi's childhood experiences show that the eyes of Japanese motherhood are "steady and matter of fact. They are eyes that protect, shielding what is hidden most deeply in the heart of a child" (71). This language of the eyes goes hand in hand with basic etiquette and verbal communication. When it's apparent that someone has performed an act that would typically be punished under European etiquette, there is to be no blame.
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