Obasan Essay

I decided to read the novel by Joy Kogawa entitled Obasan. The
novel was written in 1981 and told the details of how the Japanese were
discriminated against during World War 2. The author’s main purpose was
to educated the reader on how hard life really was for her family and
other Japanese Canadians living in British Columbia, and especially in
Vancouver. Joy Kogawa tried to show how ignorant British Columbians
really were, and that we still do not fully understand what really
happened during the war. She also tries to teach Canadians the culture
of the Japanese.

The novel starts in the seventies with Naomi a teacher in
Northern Alberta finding out that her uncle has died. When Naomi returns
home to console her Aunt Obasan, she begins to relive the difficulties of
her life. She recounts the struggle against the government and
themselves while trying to stay in Vancouver. Naomi is very small at the
time of the war and did not really fully understand what was happening to
her race. The novel recounts the struggle of Naomi’s Aunt Emily to
ensure that her family would be together in whatever place they were sent
to. Aunt Emily wanted to head east to Toronto, but was unable to get the
documentation for the entire family which included her sister children,
who she was taking care of. The novel discuses the camps that the
Japanese families were sent to in Hastings Park during the war. It
described the treatment the families received while there, including the
lack of food and the smell of manure. Naomi during this time was being
sexually molested by her next door neighbor and did not tell anybody
about this. Naomi seems resentful during the novel, as she comes across
as a quiet little girl, who does not seem to interact with many people.
Aunt Emily finally finds a place in Slocan for the family to go live, but
just before they leave finds out her and her immediate family could go to
Toronto. This leaves Aunt Emily going to Toronto and everybody else
moving to Toronto. In the end almost everybody ends up dying.

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The novel had many strengths and weaknesses. One strength that
really got to me is the great detail in how the Japanese were treated,
though they were Canadian citizens. Obasan also taught me a lot about
the Japanese culture and background. I enjoyed learning that it was
custom to take a bath with your family when you were younger. I also
learned that the government took away the vehicles of the Japanese and
auctioned them off, which really shocked me. Joy Kogawa also brought in
a good insight about what the Japanese Canadians were really feeling and
going through during these tough times.

On the flip side there were also many weaknesses in the book
Obasan. One major weakness was the failure to distinguish between
present time and the past. There were to many times that I did not
realize that Naomi had switched into a flashback or vice versa. This
left me rereading many pages over. I also did not like the way that the
novel would drag on. It sometimes failed to have much to do with the
rest of the story, and is to wordy. I believe the story could have been
told in about one hundred and eighty pages instead of the two hundred and
fifty pages. I think that the novel could have also gone into a little
more detail about the living conditions at Hastings Park, and also a
political aspect of why this was happening to these people.

All and all I would have to say this novel helped me a lot in
understanding what happened during the Second World War. Before reading
this novel, I would have to admit that I really did not even know this
happened in Canada, which is really sad. I did know though that the
Japanese in the United States were sent from the west coast, but did not
realize that it reached the west coast of Canada. Obasan is a very good
novel for anybody who did not know what happened during the Second World
War. I would recommend this novel to all Canadians, but especially to
British Columbians. Obasan was on the most part well written and gives
an excellent account of the Japanese reviews. Obasan was a good novel to
help better understand our Canadian history.


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