Although the accolade is based on only one novel, John Okada (oh-KAH-dah) is hailed as one of the most influential Asian American writers. The inclusions of No-No Boy in The Heath Anthology of American Literature (1990), Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988), and The Columbia History of the American Novel (1991) indicate the recognition of the novel’s importance among literary critics.
Okada also left a manuscript on the experience of the first generation of Japanese immigrants when he died of a heart attack at the age of forty-seven. His wife, Dorothy Okada, burned it after she could not find an interested publisher. When she moved from their old apartment, she also destroyed many of his papers and letters—part of the reason little is known of Okada’s life.
Okada grew up in Seattle and attended Seattle High School. He received two B.A. degrees (in English and library science) from the University of Washington and an M.A. degree in English from Columbia University. He served in the U.S. military in World War II, broadcasting messages from a plane to Japanese soldiers in their language. After being discharged a sergeant in 1946, Okada worked at the Seattle Public Library and then the Detroit Public Library. He supplemented his income by writing manuals for Chrysler Missile Operations.
When No-No Boy was first published in 1957, it received little attention. To Okada’s disappointment, his own community rejected the novel. The vivid portrayal of the agony of being Japanese American during and after World War II was perhaps too close to home for Japanese Americans, who preferred to forget rather than be made to feel again the intense pain of their dehumanizing treatment at the hands of the U.S. government. In 1970 a group of Asian American writers discovered a copy of the novel in a San Francisco bookstore; they collected money among themselves to have it reprinted in 1976.
No-No Boy begins with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the anti-Japanese American hysteria that...
(The entire section is 865 words.)