Naomi Nakane is in the middle of teaching her fifth- and sixth-grade class in the small town of Cecil, Alberta, when she receives word that her uncle has died in Granton, 150 miles south. Going home for his funeral means for her a sad reunion with several family members, notably the quiet widow, the “Obasan” of the book’s title, and Stephen, Naomi’s older brother. Obasan and Uncle Isamu had raised Naomi and her brother from the time that they were young children. Flamboyant Stephen, who essentially renounced his Japanese heritage and had been involved for a time with a French woman, developed a national reputation as a classical pianist and now lives in Montreal. Unmarried Naomi, on the other hand, had been stuck in a dead-end teaching job for the past seven years with no prospects of either romance or fame.
Emily Kato, Naomi’s outspoken unmarried aunt living in Toronto, also makes the trip to Granton for the memorial service. Politically active, she had hounded Naomi for years to become more interested and involved with exposing the wrongs of the Canadian government in its internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. She had earlier sent Naomi a large box of newspaper clippings, letters, and government documents, which had been stored unread by Obasan under the kitchen table.
The trip home brings back painful memories to Naomi about growing up without her mother. Studying an old family photograph when she arrives in Granton sparks extended reminiscences: In September, 1941, Naomi’s mother and Naomi’s grandmother, Kato, travel to Japan to care for a relative who is ill, but neither returns. (Naomi, who was five years old at the time, has never been told what became of her mother.) She and her family and her Japanese neighbors are forced by the Canadian government to move inland to internment camps and abandon their successful boat-building business near Vancouver. The family members—Naomi, Stephen, Uncle Isamu, and Ayaka Obasan—are required to sell off their belongings and leave their comfortable home indefinitely. They are moved to an abandoned mining settlement inland named Slocan, and are separated from Aunt Emily for twelve years....
(The entire section is 893 words.)