Obasan (Review)

Book cover for "Obasan" by Joy Kogawa.Title: Obasan

Author: Joy Kogawa

Publication Year: 1981

Pages: 300

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Borrowed from a classroom bookshelf

From the cover:

This powerful, passionate and highly acclaimed novel tells, through the eyes of a child, the moving story of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.

Naomi is a sheltered and beloved 5 year old when Pearl Harbour changes her life. Separated from her mother, she watches bewildered as she and her family become enemy aliens, persecuted and despised in their own land.

Surrounded by hardship and pain, Naomi is protected by the resolute endurance of her aunt, Obasan, and the silence of those around her. Only after Naomi grows up, does she return to question that haunting silence.

This is one of the two books that I’ve been reading for the past few weeks, and the first one that I’ve actually finished since the beginning of the month. So weird for me after the year of reading that I’ve had so far.

I think that part of why I’ve been in this “reading slump” is because of the subject matter of this book – normally, I don’t have trouble reading historical fiction, even when it’s based on horrible events, but for some reason this one was different. Kogawa tells the story of the discriminatory things that the Canadian government did to the resident Japanese population during the second world war in such a way that you can’t help but feel her narrator’s intense feeling of disenfranchisement and the pain she went through as a child. It just hits you so hard hearing about it through the eyes of a child, even when that child is grown up at the time she re-tells her memories.

I found the first bit of the book a bit tedious, particularly Kogawa’s writing style and the slowness of events. However, that picked up later on in the book, and then Naomi’s memories took over and kept me intereste.d

There’s not much that really stands out to make Obasan an “incredible” read, but it also wasn’t a bad one. It just kind of was; it’s an interesting take on events in Canadian history that aren’t very well-known – especially outside of Canada – but that people really should understand better, especially from the perspective of the victims. If you like historical fiction, or are interested in Canadian history, you might find this one interesting, but otherwise it’s nothing all that special.



2 thoughts on “Obasan (Review)”

  1. I read this book in college, then re-read it a couple of years ago. Seems like we feel the same about it. It was okay, but it was a powerful story. It was hard for me to get used to the writing style, and that’s what kept it from being a great book.

    I hope it’s okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

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