Obasan by Joy Kogawa

obasanKogawa’s novel is narrated by Naomi, a sheltered and pampered child who is five years old when her life is drastically changed by the events at Pearl Harbor and the Second World War. As a Japanese Canadian, Naomi is separated from her parents, persecuted and eventually placed in an internment camp – common practice in Canada during WWII.

“If all this sounds like a bird’s-eye view to you, Nesan, it’s the reportage of a caged bird. I can’t really see what’s happening. We’re like a bunch of rabbits being chased by hounds.” (pg. 107)

The one bright spot in Naomi’s life is her Aunt Obasan, her protector and caregiver after she is separated from her parents. Naomi is only able to face her past after the death of her Obasan, and the letters given to her upon her Obasan’s death.

Reading Obasan, for me, was a lot like riding a roller coaster. It had its highs and lows, but in the end, I walked away feeling sick to my stomach. Yes, Obasan is an important account on the internment on Japanese citizens in Canada and, later, the use of the atomic bomb.

But its format is so confusing that I quickly lost interest in a story that originally kept me frantically turning the pages. Kogawa skips from present to past, and even goes so far as to skip around within Naomi’s past, making it a struggle to figure out exactly where in time the story is taking place. There is no little plot development and even less character development. In addition to all of the unnecessary, distracting description of scenery, Obasan is almost impossible to understand.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. 1994. Print. New York: Anchor, 300 pgs. ISBN: 0385468865. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Anchor Books. Retrieved: December 16, 2008.


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