Saturday, November 25, 2006


Title: Obasan
Author: Joy Kogawa
Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN: 9780143055020

# of Pages: 228
Published: 1981, Penguin group Canada

Began Reading Nov. 16th, '06
Finished Reading: Nov.21st, '06

It is always dangerous for me to walk into Chapters. The smell of books fresh off the press, the sound of pages being flipped as a potential courtier peruses the contents, the Pine Sol brilliance of the shelves... Walking down the aisles, I reach out my hand and caress the covers as if it is the silky skin of my lovers. My roommate, used to the blank expression on my face, reminds me of the humongous pile of unread books on my nightstand and the even larger pile that has no shelf, for there is no room. But her voice is more like a bee buzzing by my ear than a siren of warning. 'I need it. I want it.'” Overcome with desire, I give in every time. At home, I introduce them to the family, "Chekhov. Melville. Meet your new neighbor." I may not start reading it that night or that year. But I will read it eventually. And buy more.

Thats how Obasan fell into my hands.

The Cheese: "Everyone someday dies," Obasan keeps on repeating to her niece Naomi. As Naomi stares at her aged aunt whose aura of silence has always baffled her, she recalls the course of events that brought her family from their happy home on the B.C. coast to the Alberta prairies. Covering the startling and shocking treatment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII, the reader is introduced to a Canada never seen before. Racist, apathetic, and selfish the country drives their citizens through starvation, the robbery of loved ones & possessions, and death. Naomi is our narrator and tells in her bitter, eloquent voice how even with all the suffering & bad blood she is Canadian and her country's actions are her cross to bear along with the others.

Comments:Powerful in language. Her lyrical tone reminds me of a sad ballad one may hear on an oldies radio station. What sets this work apart is the use of SILENCE at the times when normally there would have been dialogue. The way the story unfolds features is complex & is time sensitive - something one realizes only upon reflection. These characters, whose cyclical lives feel so much like our own, are each trying to cope with the unexpected. My only regret is that I did not choose this as the monthly B. Club read--the imagery, style & powerful metaphors all call for open panel discussion. Too complex & too many for one mind in one read to fully comprehend &/or appreciate.

Best Part: 'Once a widower father of one of the boys in my class came to see me after school and took me to dinner at the local hotel. I felt nervous walking into the Cecil Inn with him.

' "Where do you come from?" he asked, as we sat down at the small table in a corner. That's the one sure-fire question I always get from strangers. People assume when they meet me I'm a foreigner.' Page 11

Whenever that question comes up, it’s always followed with a long pause and then an even longer explanation, and I am never sure quite what the inquiry means. Being a third generation WOP-Canuk myself, which am I? Both Italian and Canadian because I have both passports? Canadian because I was born here? Italian because I still make sausage and wine in my Nonnina's candina? Is this question only ambiguous for Canadians? Perhaps this lack of self-identity grounded in nationhood is a reason why Canadian identity is such a troubling, ambiguous issue. However confusing it may be for me and others of different cultural heritage, the issue was all the more confused for the characters in Obasan, especially during that period in Japanese-Canadian history.

Recommend To: Those that appreciate a writer’s twist in language, in a bitter-sarcastic way. Best example being Chapter 38, an Ode to her Mother that in terms of prose rings of the Hail Mary. All those who love accurate historical fiction will also enjoy this read.

Not For: The impatient reader. Going on a trip to Vancouver--you don't want to bring this along. Trust me, it’s not about the scenery. (if you are then Stanley Park is much better suited for that ;)

Awards Won:

First Novel Award - Books in Canada
Book of the Year Award - Canadian Authors Association
Best Paperback Fiction Award - Periodical Distributors of Canada
The American Book Award - Before Columbus Foundation

Cool Stuff: For anyone that wishes to use this book in a group or classroom there is a great community website that gives guides, bibliography for further research, and author history. Go here .

Another fellow Book Blogger beat me to a Review!!! Check out what she had to say by clicking on her link to the right 'Les Book Nook'. It’s always recommended to get a second opinion...