by Joy Kogawa | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0140067779 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingjanna2wing of Castricum, Noord-Holland Netherlands on 11/17/2007
Buy from one of these Booksellers:
Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT | Bol.com
6 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingjanna2wing from Castricum, Noord-Holland Netherlands on Saturday, November 17, 2007
Gekregen om te crossen.

Journal Entry 2 by wingjanna2wing from Castricum, Noord-Holland Netherlands on Friday, September 05, 2008
Gaat morgen, 6 september, op de bus naar gnoe.

Journal Entry 3 by Gnoe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Monday, September 08, 2008
Veel dank voor deze RABCK van mijn wishlist, Janna2!

Ik ben erg benieuwd; misschien is dit wel een goed boek om direct na mijn huidige te lezen = The Teahouse Fire, van Ellis Avery. Dat gaat over een Frans-Amerikaans weesmeisje dat in de 19e eeuw in Japan terechtkomt. Lijkt me een mooie tegenhanger voor Obasan, dat over Japanse Canadezen gaat. Hoe westerlingen en oosterlingen elkaar toch altijd als de 'vreemde eend' blijven beschouwen...

Update 21 October 2008

We have to deal with all this while we remember it. If we don't we'll pass our anger down in our genes. It's the children who'll suffer. p.36

I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading Obasan ('Aunt'), by Joy Kogawa. In Holland World War II is the main war of the 20th century and the Canadians, Americans and British were 'the good guys' that liberated us. My father was imprisoned in a Japanese camp in Indonesia as a child, so the Japs were the bad guys (next to the Nazi's of course). And that's an understatement.

I am embarrased to say that I never thought about what happened to German and Japanese people in the allied countries during the war. And I am certainly not the only one. I guess we are too busy over here thinking about what happened to 'us'. I was born 25 years after the end of the second World War but still I grew up with stories about The War.

And now I have to correct myself. Because Obasan is not just about Japanese people in WWII, but about Canadians. Issei, nisei and sansei (first, second and third generations) were all considered enemies of the state, even though they were Canadian citizens. Born and raised there. Their loyalty to the country made them co-operate to cruel regulations. They were sent to camps, disowned and often their Canadian nationality was taken from them. Like I said: this happened to Candian-born people. And it did not happen to German-born Germans!

Of course it was not only their loyalty to Canada but also their cultural background that made the Canadian-Japanese do what their country asked of them:

It is always so. We must always honour the wishes of others before our own. p.128

Maybe the worst shock I got is that everything became even worse after the war ended. Japanese Canadians were not allowed to return home (their property was seized anyway), but sent to even more remote areas of the country if they were unwilling to go to Japan. Canada wanted to get rid of them. Pure racism - in Canada, of all places. If I can believe Obasan, the USA was less rough on its citizens. At least their properties hadn't been liquidated.

You can probably tell I am impressed by what I read. And I certainly won't forget it. Although there is a part that I found a bit slow, Obasan is well written and interesting. The mystery about Uncle and Mother made me want to go on reading, even when the story was a bit tough. Every Canadian kid should read this book in high school!

What is done, Aunt Emily, is done, is it not? And no doubt it will all happen again, over and over with different faces and names, variatons on the same theme. [..] Is there evidence for optimism? p.199

I chose some quotations for this journal entry that suited what I wrote about the book. It means that I had to leave out the kind of quote that reminds me of favourite and emotional passages. Well, you can't have it all...

Journal Entry 4 by Gnoe at Another BookCrosser, RABCK -- Controlled Releases on Friday, November 07, 2008

Released 11 yrs ago (10/28/2008 UTC) at Another BookCrosser, RABCK -- Controlled Releases


Off to Finland...
I hope you will like Obasan, Tarna!

Journal Entry 5 by Tarna from Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Friday, November 07, 2008
I’ve been away from home for a week now and will stay away the rest of the year. (Too much plumbers’ stuff and occasionally plumbers, too; renovations in the building — and there’s no room for me any more. :-( Not to mention no kitchen, no bathroom and toilet or no water.) However, I did visit there today and picked up the mail. And there it was, waiting on the hat rack; Obasan by Joy Kogawa, my wish list book. Thank you, Gnoe!
And no, I did not peek on your shelf beforehand, so it was total surprise. I’m so excited, I’ve never read anything by Joy Kogawa. But I’ve met her, you know. Or... I kind of met her. She visited Tampere few years ago and gave a lecture at the Tampere University when we had some conference on North American Studies there. She spoke about her experience as Japanese Canadian at the time they were discriminated in Canada. And she also told about her experiences in Japan; how she wasn’t accepted there either but was considered westerner instead of Japanese. — Imagine, not to feel accepted anywhere... Anyway, we changed a few words, and what a nice lady she was! I’ve wanted to read something by her ever since. And now I have the chance. Thanks to you, Gnoe.

This week was really lousy for me. But you and Joy Kogawa saved it. THANK YOU so much!!! This RABCK is truly appreciated. :D

ETA. March 27, 2009. I'll mark the book reserved since I know that CatharinaL would like to read it, too.

Journal Entry 6 by Tarna from Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Friday, April 10, 2009
Magnificent book! The story is sad — there really is no joy in it — and appalling, but the way Joy Kogawa tells it... She’s a poet and that shows. In some places her text is sheer poetry. I love this book. Thanks again, Gnoe! This really was more than just a good reading experience. It was a journey that still goes on.

I think the text on the cover is true; this is a ‘novel of a time and a suffering we have tried to forget.’ This part of Canadian history has been kept hush-hush far too long. That makes Obasan very important book, too.
Even if I already knew how Japanese Canadians were treated during and after the WWII, the book gave me some more info. I knew they had to move e.g. to Ontario and that they lost everything they had to leave behind, their houses, their businesses, and everything in those, but I had no idea about ghost towns and sending ‘volunteers’ to Japan. I felt awful when in the beginning the characters trusted the RCMP to be on their side. The Mounties, for crying out loud! Of course, now we all know better. Canada was a racist country with racist immigration policy, it’s a fact. Fortunately, things started gradually to change sometime during the fifties or sixties.
Today, Canada is officially multicultural. In fact, it was the first country in the world that adopted multicultural policy (in 1971). Yet, Obasan should be read by every Canadian, by everyone everywhere. Because it’s not only about Canada and Japanese Canadians, there are themes that concern us all.

Next reader of the novel will be CatharinaL. She knows Japanese culture, both English and Japanese languages, and literature much better than I do, she’s a mother of a baby girl and she’s a published poet herself (haikus, believe it or not). I’m already looking forward to her review on this book. I hope you’ll like it, CL.

Joy Kogawa on The Canadian Encyclopedia site
Joy Kogawa (by Karin Beeler, University of Northern British Columbia)
Joy Kogawa on the University of Toronto Library site
Joy Kogawa on Canadian Women Poets
Joy Kogawa on BookWorld Author Bank
Joy Kogawa on Wikipedia

ETA April 24, 2009. I gave the book to Kemppu at the Tampere meet-up yesterday so that she could take it CatharinaL today. From my point of view, Obasan is travelling. And my book #24 in guinaveve's 2009 Keep Them Moving Challenge.

Journal Entry 7 by CatharinaL from Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Saturday, April 25, 2009
Got the book last night at the local BCers' Books & Brandy meetup, via Kemppu. Thanks! I'm sure looking forward to reading it!

Journal Entry 8 by CatharinaL from Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Unless the stone bursts with telling, unless the seed flowers with speech, there is in my life no living word. The sound I hear is only sound. White sound. Words, when they fall, are pock marks on the earth. They are hailstones seeking an underground stream.

If I could follow the stream down and down to the hidden voice, would I come at last to the freeing word? I ask the night sky but the silence is steadfast. There is no reply.

This is a story told from the viewpoint of third-generation Japanese Canadians (the sansei) during and after World War II, at a time when Canadian-born citizens of Japanese descent were considered internal enemies of the state. The persecution did not stop at V-day; indeed, the Japanese were not allowed back in British Columbia until 1949, and even then, their confiscated property was never returned to them.

Yet, the issei (first generation) and the nisei (second generation) chose turning into stone outwardly: they endured by keeping silent. What happened was not explained to or discussed with the sansei, a generation who were schoolchildren or younger during the persecution. The core and the dilemma of the book is specifically this: to remember or not to remember? Does is matter to remember; is it worth cutting open old wounds? If you choose to apply the technique of keeping silent and forgetting, you also choose to bury your family history with you. It is important for the upcoming generations to know about justice and injustice, even though not reminiscing makes it is easier to endure at the time. It makes all the difference to remember AND learn not to hate.

Canada radically changed her attitudes over the following decades. As Tarna pointed out in her journal entry, Canada became the first country in the world to adopt a multicultural policy in 1971. Still, a multicultural policy should not be a shining badge behind which to hide unpleasant history: no more hush-hushing. The Wikipedia article on Slocan City does mention the town having served as an internment camp; elsewhere, the history is not so evident. I, for one, did not know. Reading about the treatment of Canadian citizens felt odd, like peeping into a parallel reality: "these crimes cannot be true because I have never heard of them". I'm glad Obasan has become a set book for a number of literature courses in universities worldwide and also the One Book, One Vancouver selection for 2005.

The narrator is Naomi, a Vancouver-born sansei from a well-off family. Her mother and grandmother go to Japan before the war, and there isn't a word from them since. Naomi is 5 when her family is relocated in the ghost town of Slocan in the interior, and a high school senior of 17 when reunited with Aunt Emily in Alberta towards the end of the book. Grown-up Naomi provides the other perspective to the story; the carefully documented family history discovered in Aunt Emily's files several decades later provide the third.

A generation gap, a culture gap; a gap in understanding, a gap in implication. Naomi and her brother Stephen do not recognize Japan as their frame of reference: they are Canadians and their culture is (Japanese) Canadian. More specifically, they are Vancouverites: the wildernesses and the prairies of the inland are just as foreign to them as Japan. [On a side track: to me, the urban perspective felt odd and disappointingly naïve at times. Even for a 21st-century Finnish reader, the "atrocity" of a cabin in the wilderness, no lawn but pine cones on the ground, no electricity or running water, and an outhouse inhabited with wasps sounds perfectly normal. With all the modern conveniences and technology available, we still choose not to have running water at our summer houses; we teach our kids not to despise the outhouse; precisely so as not to let them become alienated from nature and the old ways. Here, too, is a culture gap wide enough to be insurmountable; but it's better to recognize it than to be offended.]

In Obasan, every detail is meticulously calculated to fit the plot. Episodes of Naomi's childhood are portrayed as still-lifes each of which comes to have deeper symbolism and relevance: it is Naomi the grown-up who narrates and lets interpretations seep into her memories. For example, when Kenji runs away and doesn't rescue Naomi when she is about to drown ("He would never tell anyone"), the reader immediately knows to interpret this as: the Japanese Canadians would never tell of their sufferings but run away in a hush-hush silence, loyal to their homeland. They are stone, they are a silence. The symbolist method is tired but acceptable here for one single reason: its very Japaneseness. Everything about it resembles the forced art of artificial make-believe traditionally applied in, for example, ikebana and bonsai. It twists reality; and here we are talking a double twist: it twists a reality that is already twisted by war.

However, I am not at all convinced by the lyricism in the narrator's present-day passages: too many artsy platitudes for my taste. Also, the two parallel plot lines—or should I say mental locations (Naomi's everyday and the mystery of what became of her mother and grandmother in Japan)—do not always mix well. Take the sudden, ominous passage Our bones are made porous amidst the natural beauty of Slocan, for example. We know that there is an ultimate secret that is left unspoken for decades; but I wish the technique for creating the anticipation had been some other.

On the back cover, it says If you read one novel this year, let it be Obasan. Sounds suspiciously bestseller-ish, doesn't it? As if the book was targeted at those who don't normally read; but do not let this put you off. The same goes for calling the story "moving" — as much as the novel moved me to tears, I'm still wary of the word and the empty platitudes it implies.


I'm seeing Tarna tomorrow; the book will return to her. Thanks for letting me read this!

I'm putting the sequel, Itsuka/Emily Kato (1992/2005), on my Wish List.

Journal Entry 9 by Tarna from Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Thursday, May 28, 2009
Thanks, CL! It's such a pleasure to read your reviews even if you don't agree with me that often.
Always nice to have good company while having lunch. Pea soup on Thursday, what an unshaken Finnish tradition. :)
I think I'll do some Wish List search next...

Edited to add that Obasan is now reserved for ifyouknew.

Journal Entry 10 by Tarna from Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Mailed the book today. I think it should arrive Canada in a week or so.

I hope you'll like Obasan, ifyouknew.

Journal Entry 11 by wingifyouknewwing from Calgary, Alberta Canada on Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I can't believe how fast this arrived. A very generous RABCK from Tarna- it's been on my wish list for ages.

For reasons that are unclear to me, Tarna is enamoured with all things Canadian. (So am I, but I have an excuse- I live here!) In any case, I think it would make her happy if I brought the book along on a trip I'm making across Canada next week. I'll read it on the way, and will probably release it in either Toronto or Halifax- so it will have travelled from Netherlands to Finland to Western Canada and then to Eastern Canada- a distance of over 12,000km! Who knows where it will travel after that?

Journal Entry 12 by wingifyouknewwing from Calgary, Alberta Canada on Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I enjoyed this. It's appalling what we Canadians did to our Japanese-Canadian people during the Second World War. We like to think of ourselves as tolerant, but this story shows that we always need to be on guard against our more selfish instincts.

Journal Entry 13 by wingifyouknewwing at Barrington Place in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada on Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Released 11 yrs ago (6/17/2009 UTC) at Barrington Place in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada



To be released on the mall, around noon.

Journal Entry 14 by wingAnonymousFinderwing on Monday, July 27, 2009
I picked up the book on June 17th/09, about an hour after it was dropped off at Barrington Place Mall (at a Newspaper Stand). I am leaving (from Halifax) to go to Newfoundland today and plan to leave it at the airport in St. John's, NL. Whoever picks it up, please take a minute to let us know where & when you found it and what you plan on doing with it the book... Thanks.
Lynn from Halifax.


Journal Entry 15 by wingAnonymousFinderwing on Monday, August 03, 2009
The book was released today (August 3/09) at noon at HALIFAX Stanfield Int'l Airport in the Departure area (not at the St. Johns, NL airport as I had originally planned). If you find this book, please keep us posted.

Lynn from Halifax.

Are you sure you want to delete this item? It cannot be undone.