Joy Kogawa’s Obasan has forced critics to include Asian Canadians in their study of ethnic literature; it is such a fine work no critic can ignore it. Kogawa has defined political and cultural connections between the Japanese immigrants of Canada and America. Both groups were held in internment camps during World War II. Their property was seized, and their families were often separated. In Canada and the United States the men of the families fought for their new countries while their wives, children, and siblings remained interred. Arguably one of the finest literary renderings of this experience, Obasan investigates what happened as a result of these practices.
Naomi Nakane, the protagonist of...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
Five-year-old Naomi Nakane’s secure life in her Vancouver home is shattered by a series of events far beyond her control. First, a neighbor lures her into an episode of abuse, leaving her with a guilty heart. Then her mother leaves for Japan to help nurse an ailing grandmother. Her Aunt Emily comes to visit, and Naomi overhears frantic, whispered conversations, which she does not understand. The culmination comes when Naomi, her older brother Stephen, and their Aunt Aya (Obasan of the title) are sent to live in Slocan, a near-deserted mining town in the mountains of interior British Columbia. Naomi’s father does not go with them; he is sent to a work camp.
Their assigned home is a sagging, two-room log cabin on the edge of the woods. It is crowded and primitive, even more crowded when an aged aunt and Obasan’s husband, Isamu, arrive, but Obasan’s and Uncle’s efforts soon make it livable. The family group settles in to live there for an unknown duration.
Most of the adults in Slocan have suffered the forced loss of their property, homes, and occupations, but even so a community emerges. Naomi and Stephen do not have a school, except for Sunday School, until May, 1943. Stephen, however, has his music, and Obasan keeps Naomi busy making scrapbooks of the royal family. Naomi has a close brush with death when she jumps off a log raft into a murky lake. Rescued by Rough Lock Bill, a local resident, she ends up in the hospital but learns that not all white Canadians are like her scary Vancouver neighbor.
When the war is over, there is hope of returning to Vancouver. Unfortunately, it is not to be. Naomi’s father comes for a short visit. He is greeted joyously, but obviously his health is precarious. When the family is removed once again, this time to work in the sugar beet fields of Alberta, he is hospitalized with tuberculosis. Naomi never sees him again. Nor is there ever any word from her absent mother.
Life and work in the beet fields are even more miserable than life in Slocan. The family’s house is a battered one-room chicken...
(The entire section is 853 words.)