OBASAN Paperback – 28 Nov 1996
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" This quiet novel burns in your hand." --"Washington Post,"
"This quiet novel burns in your hand." --"Washington Post."
"This quiet novel burns in your hand." --Washington Post.
-This quiet novel burns in your hand.- --Washington Post.
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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.See all Product description
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[Intermezzo: Even before Japan's surprise attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941, US citizens of Japanese descent and Japanese `non citizens' were considered security risks. After Pearl Harbor they were incarcerated in camps or sent to work on farms in the Rocky Mountains to prevent them from poisoning reserves of drinking water or using their pocket torches to guide Japanese submarines and other navy vessels to possible coastal landing sites. Please read also Julie Otsuka's stunningly original and beautiful novel "The Buddha in the Attic".]
Joy Kogawa describes how people with a Japanese background in Canada fared during WW II, through the eyes of a 4-year old girl, her aunt. And what happened after the war. As a child her aunt was kept long in the dark about the impending fate of Canadians with Japanese roots. And then it happened... All `Japs' living in Vancouver and the west coast province of British Columbia were deported further inland. All property of Canadian Japanese was confiscated and became government property. This included vehicles, real estate, fishing boats, wharfs, farmland, everything.
Japanese Americans fared much better and soon after the war their situation quickly returned to normal. In Canada, the restrictions remained in place until 1949 and nobody ever returned to his or her old home. Only in 1988 the Canadian government admitted that massive injustice had been done, allowing compensation measures.
The novel contains many dreams and extraordinarily detailed childhood memories. A terrible family secret is revealed in the final pages. "Obasan" became an award-winning bestseller in Canada. It has a sequel entitled "Itsuka".
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In my opinion, Naomi Nakane’s story of persecution and hardship serves as a reminder of the importance of using one’s voice during times of personal struggle. Throughout the novel, Naomi describes the language of silence spoken by several members of her family; Naomi states, for instance, that “from both Obasan and Uncle [she has] learned that speech often hides like an animal in a storm” (4). From a very young age, the family’s adoption of silence influences Naomi and causes her to develop the habit of remaining silent through difficult times. For example, when Naomi is four years old, she suffers from sexual abuse from her adult neighbor, and Naomi explains that although she wished for someone to come rescue her, she felt that she was “not permitted to move, to dress, or to cry out” because her family “[would] see [her] shame” (76). Sadly, Naomi’s fear of speaking aloud prevents her from getting the help she needs, and the continued abuse leaves a scar on her childhood memories. In contrast, Naomi’s Aunt Emily strongly encourages speaking one’s mind, and is even described as “a word warrior… a crusader, a little old gray-haired Mighty Mouse…” (39). Unlike the rest of the family, who silently suffer through the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and choose not to speak about their experience, Aunt Emily proudly decides to address the issues of the past as a way to seek justice and avoid any recurrences in the future. Thanks to Aunt Emily, Naomi eventually learns that her mother, who left for Japan before the war and was presumed dead after years of silence, became horribly disfigured as a result of the bombing of Nagasaki and purposely asked that her children never hear of her tragic fate. Although Naomi’s mother chose to be silent about her torment for selfless and loving reasons, Naomi and her brother Stephen both suffered tremendously as they had to spend the rest of their lives without hearing from their mother. Just as Naomi’s silence worsened her own suffering at a young age, Naomi’s mother’s silence caused her own children to suffer, and at the very end of the novel, Naomi laments, “Gentle Mother, we were lost together in our silences. Our wordlessness was our mutual destruction” (291).
A story that every Canadian should read and remember.