Obasan, a novel by Joy Kogawa (1981), is the first novel to trace the internment and dispersal of 20 000 Japanese Canadians from the West Coast during WWII.
Obasan, a novel by Joy Kogawa (1981), is the first novel to trace the internment and dispersal of 20 000 Japanese Canadians from the West Coast during WWII. The narrator, a schoolteacher, was a child when her family was exiled to an interior BC ghost town; after the war ended, the fractured family was again shunted, this time to southern Alberta. Kogawa explores the family's ambivalent responses to these injustices: one member becomes a civil-rights activist who assembles facts to gain redress, while an elder aunt (Obasan) fatalistically and silently accepts her sorrow. At the death of her uncle, the withdrawn narrator, who has longed to forget the past and concentrate on the future, uneasily relives her fragmented history, ultimately questioning Obasan's stoicism. That the novel is a harsh indictment of the treatment of the Japanese is clear, but Kogawa's controlled, lyrical prose prevents it from becoming mere bitter recrimination. Rather, it is a moving, powerful and truthful story of human rejection and suffering.