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Obasan Paperback – December 27, 1993
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More About the Author
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.
Top Customer Reviews
"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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
had to get it for my AP english class, wouldn't have read it otherwise.Published 19 days ago by sunwoo
I cannot relate to the story. What is the author trying to say? I am not really sure. Her writing is great, though.Published 1 month ago by Jody J.
This is an emotional, and at times disturbing, account of one family's experience with Japanese-Canadian internment camps. Read morePublished 3 months ago by mainer_girl
A beautifully written and thought-provoking story of a Japanese-Canadian family during World War II. My daughter had to read this for high school, so I read it, too. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Linda
I had to read this book for ninth grade honors English summer reading, so I may be biased. I thought this book would be about Japanese internment camps, but alas, that is not the... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Llama
Moving story. I knew little of the history of Japanese in North America, and enjoyed this book.Published 7 months ago by Alre83
I wrote a paper on the para-language of Melville in his novel, TYPEE, and used a source citing this book, thus, my interest was piqued. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Tammy Hoskins
This is one of the most important books I have read. We know from history books of the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it takes a book like this to make you see it in all... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Maggie H.