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Obasan (Obasan #1)

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  4,867 Ratings  ·  343 Reviews
A powerful and passionate novel, Obasan tells, through the eyes of a child, the moving story of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Naomi is a sheltered and beloved five-year-old when Pearl Harbor 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 b ...more
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Published August 19th 2003 by Penguin Canada (first published 1981)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aubrey
The Government makes paper airplanes out of our lives and flies us out the windows. Some people return home. Some do not. War they all say, is war, and some people survive.
Out of all the countries in the world, Canada is the one I have most seriously considered for emigration purposes. The stereotypes Americans have for that northern border are notorious; kind, peaceful, oh so funny with their maple syrup and their Mounties, Mounties being a nickname for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, shor
...more
Zanna
Obasan took me by surprise. If it weren't in 500GBbW, I may never have read this, and the story it tells might have remained for me one bald, shame-concealing line in victorious history books. I started reading, not knowing what it was about. It opens gently, quietly, with a scene of undulating hills covered in tall grasses, that is tranquil and beautiful, yet troubling because there is a silence behind it, an uncertainty about meaning, an uncertainty about being. Shall I shatter this uneasy pea ...more
Jin Kim
Sep 19, 2007 Jin Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people of asian american descent
when i was recommended with this book from my english teacher for summer reading just because i'm asian, i was not excited about this book.. a story about a japanese family who lived in canada during wwii.. i heard stories about the time that japan ruled over korea from my grandparents.. i learned about wwii from history classes.. but when i read this book, everything changed.. not only it changed my view on japan and america but also on good and evil.. most people associate japan during WWII wi ...more
Christina
Obasan is narrated by Naomi, a sheltered and pampered child who is five years old when her life is drastically changed by the events at Pearl Harbor and the Second World War. As a Japanese Canadian, Naomi is separated from her parents, persecuted and eventually placed in an internment camp - common practice in Canada during WWII.

“If all this sounds like a bird’s-eye view to you, Nesan, it’s the reportage of a caged bird. I can’t really see what’s happening. We’re like a bunch of rabbits being c
...more
Steven Buechler
Mar 26, 2013 Steven Buechler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am surprised by how many people have never read this book. Kogawa documents a dark part of our history that every person should be aware of. A must for every library.

********

Introduction:

There is a silence that cannot speak.
There is a silence that will not speak.
Beneath the grass the speaking dreams and beneath the dreams is a sensate sea. The speech that frees comes forth from that amniotic deep. To attend its voice, I can hear it say, is to embrace its absence. But I fail the task. The word
...more
David
Sep 02, 2013 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dark-orange-band
A bit too light and wispy? Our narrator is very fond of looking at the scenery and only shyly alluding to the human rights abuses going on all around her.

But ... crucial reading ... I'd liked to hope Japanese internment was only a mad USA thing. Canada! Part of the Empire! Bloody hell.
Gnoe Graasland
Jan 13, 2011 Gnoe Graasland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jlit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Helen Wagner
No book I've ever read has ever broken my heart like this one. I cried on the bus heading home from school, cried late at night reading tucked under the covers, an cried again in the morning, sitting in the Arts Undergrad Society student lounge. But more often than not, I sat silently, awash in the stark and simple beauty of Kogawa's prose, numb with sorrow too great for tears or shaking with anger at the wrongs my country, my government committed against the Nisei, against people more Canadian ...more
Emma Irwin
Nov 05, 2014 Emma Irwin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
One of the worst books I have ever read.

The pace is unbearably slow. Chapter 14, comprised solely of letters, made me want to throw the book out the window. Unfortunately, I was forced to read this for my English class and could not do so. The author was entirely focused on attempted symbolism and metaphor that was dull and did not aid in the plot whatsoever.

The topic could have been presented in a way that was emotional and touching, however, the author has caused me nothing but irritation.
Jo
Jul 14, 2011 Jo rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted my students to learn about this era in history, and so many other teachers had recommended it, so I went ahead and assigned it as summer reading before I actually read it. That summer, I picked it up time and time again, trying to force my way through it. It was so boring that I decided to contact my students and tell them not to worry about reading it. They were all happy -- they couldn't read more than a page at a time, either.
Barbara
Feb 15, 2013 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this for a women's social history class. Obasan is a story about Japanese-Canadians during WWII told from the point of view of a young Japanese-Canadian girl from Vancouver whose family's life and future is torn apart by the Canadian interment policies for that time.
It is a story that has not been openly discussed within Canadian history classes as it in juxtaposition to how we view ourselves during times of war. We are the good guys, the peace keepers, sometimes the heroes, but not the '
...more
Rebecca
Mar 06, 2009 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After a bit of a dry spell with novels, Obasan for me was like an incredible waterfall of language and historical context. Kogawa is clearly a poet, which is vital to the telling of this narrative because the horrors faced by these Japanese-Canadian characters cannot be expressed in simple prose.

Set in Vancouver in the WWII era, this novel tells Naomi's coming-of-age story during intense discrimination and disruption to her identity and community. I read this novel while teaching Postcolonial W
...more
Erika
Apr 22, 2016 Erika rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first time I've read Obasan, a novel that is heart-wrenching in the pain it depicts and all the things it doesn't say. I can see why it had such an impact when it was first published as the first book which described the exile of Japanese Canadians. It is shocking and devastating to read of the pain that existed in my own country during the war and that was continued purposefully for so many years afterwards by a government fuelled by racist fears. For me, this book is a reminder of ...more
Christina
Apr 22, 2010 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Obasan is a fascinating look into the lives and experiences of a Japanese-Canadian family from the perspective of an adult family member who was born and raised in Canada. Through this novel, the reader discovers what might be to some a surprising aspect of Canada's past: our attempt to remove all Asian immigrants from Canada after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

This is the only book that has ever made me cry. I was genuinely caught off guard by the sheer devastation described in the last few pa
...more
Nagisa
Feb 04, 2014 Nagisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1950-1999, canadian
When I was taking a graduate exam, I felt hopeless because I was unfamiliar with any of the assigned excerpts. But then I find the one titled Obasan and guessed that must be about Japanese immigrants. Who could write about them better than I do? So that saved my MA degree, and I determined to read the book some time later.
It took me 3 years to finally get to read the book, and all I can say is ”Depressing.” Grief seeps through every line. I didn't know that Canada inhumanly discriminated and op
...more
Annerlee
What can I say?
Quietly and unassumingly profound. Heart wrenching.. One to read
Suzanne
Obasan is an autobiographical novel about the author's experience in a Japanese internment camp during the 1940's in Canada. Kogawa was a child when her family was relocated from a large city to a rural community.

The family was Canadian born of Japanese descent, and their experience was fascinating to me as a contrast to how the same ethnic families suffered under U.S. relocation policies. In Canada, not only were the families interned in camps, but their cars were confiscated from them as well.
...more
NaomiRuth
Apr 06, 2017 NaomiRuth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: af, hist-cult
A little heavy on the symbolism, but a moving story about the Canadian-Japanese experience during World War II.
Jim
Aug 17, 2010 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this time of bubbling racism and bigotry that percolates from the murky depths of hatred and narrow-mindedness, blinding Americans to the constitutional rights of citizenship and freedom of religion, it is a good thing to read of past mistreatment of minorities in this country (and in other countries as well). The forced internment of loyal Japanese Americans was a terrible blight on American history, and it is fairly familiar to most schoolchildren, largely because of books such as Houston’s ...more
Jackie
Next to Surfacing and In the Skin of a Lion, Obasan belongs to a group of novels I had to read for a course on Canadian literature, which is why – having reviewed the other two books – I’d like to spend some thought on Kogawa’s novel as well!

Megumi Naomi Nakane, the protagonist and narrator, has Japanese ancestors, but has spent most of her life in Canada. In 1972, when she starts telling the story, she's a 36 year-old, unmarried school teacher. Up until that year, she used to go on a trip with
...more
Maggie
May 12, 2016 Maggie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book Obasan is about Japanese Canadians during WWII. Nomi, a young teacher, recalls her experience as a young girl when her family was forced to live through the cruel and inhumane conditions during WWII that many Japanese Canadians had to live through, by reading her aunt’s documents and letters from the war. Other characters in the book include Nomi’s aunt, Obasan, Uncle, Aunt Emily, Nomi’s older brother Stephen, Nomi’s father and mother, and several other family members. Over the course o ...more
Travis
Jan 06, 2011 Travis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Before I picked up this book, I knew nothing about the history of Japanese-Canadians. Sadly, I know almost nothing about Canadian history, period, and it had never even occurred to me that the Canadian government might have had similar anti-Japanese policies during WWII.[return][return]The book starts with the narrator, Naomi, as an adult in the '70s. When she goes to see her aunt after her uncle's death, she finds a package from her other aunt containing a diary and letters written during the w ...more
Helen
May 12, 2016 Helen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Naomi ,a 36-year-old schoolteacher living in the rural Canadian town of Cecil, Alberta, returns to her Aunt Aya's house to help plan her recently passed uncle's funeral. When looking at old pictures and reading old journal entries and papers from her aunt, memories return of WW2 and the discrimination against the Japanese in Canada. Naomi recalls the past memories of being forced out of their home and sent to Slocan a ghost town. Living with her older brother Stephen, her Uncle, and her grandmot ...more
Ben
May 20, 2016 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this book, the main character is Naomi Nakane, a young teacher living in Canada. The book is set in Canada in the 1972, but also flashes back to World War II times, when Naomi was a young child. The main conflict is that throughout the book, Naomi uncovers her own past and the past of her entire family, who suffered at the hand of officials from Canada and the United States during WWII, because of their nationality (Japanese).
Something that I liked was the use of analogies and comparison that
...more
Vivienne
Aug 01, 2009 Vivienne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vivienne by: Mission City Archives
Multi-generational family saga from 1941 to the 1970's told from the perspective of a daughter from age 5 to 35. The book opens with Naomi as a five year old Japanese-Canadian living in Vancouver with her upper middle class family, her mother having just gone to Japan to visit elderly relatives. War measures taken to protect the Pacific Coast from Japanese invasion begin with intering all citizens and residents of Japanese descent in Hastings Park (still in use as a horse race track in Vancouver ...more
Claudia
I had trouble getting through the first 70 pages. It was a dreary account of the narrators present day life that was going in no clear direction.

Once the section with the letters from Aunt Emily began, however, it got interesting. Suddenly the book transformed into an engaging and thought-provoking narrative about a subject which, at least in my experience, is always presented one-sidedly or not at all.

The part of the book that contains what is promised- war from the perspective of a child- is a
...more
Sam
Title: Obasan
Author: Kogawa Joy

Had you ever wonder what life it is like being a Japanese Canadian Citizen during the Second World War? An award wining novel written by a Japanese Canadian Citizen will tell you. Kogawa Joy had illustrated detail of traditional Japanese life during the darkest age for the Japanese, the World War II.
If you are a person who interested in Japanese culture like me you will absolutely love this award wining novel. By reading the conversation between the author’s and
...more
Jenna Jonas
This book takes place in Granton, Alberta, in 1972. Main character Naomi Nakane, a Japanese Canadian, reminisces back to her past, largely affected by World War II, but also including personal experiences. I enjoyed the material this book was based off of, but its aggravates me to read a perspective of a character that does hardly anything but listen and observe quietly. Something I did enjoy reading was the imposing question of whether or not it is better to remember or forget something. If it ...more
Ari
Jun 10, 2016 Ari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"A must read for everybody"

I was first attracted by its lyrical language, then its revelation and candid portrayal of humanity - abandonment and betrayal overcome by resilience and love. Obasan opened my eyes to a part of the world history: the story of Canadian Japanese at the time of World War II in Canada. I love this story - living in this world that we are all modern nomad - Obasan invites you to think about belonging and home, and to treasure the long way that we have come in respecting hu
...more
Larry
Oct 10, 2009 Larry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Obasan looks at a dark page of Canadian and US history that makes modern-day caucasians uncomfortable - the racist treatment of Japanese-Canadians and Japanese-Americans during WWII. While the treatment of Japanese-Canadians was far, far less abhorent than the Nazi treatment of Jews, the fact that a society of educated intelligent people could so easily accept and participate in racist oppression of their neighbours and fellow citizens is truly distressing. One hopes that modern Canadians would ...more
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500 Great Books B...: Obasan - Joy Kogawa 3 29 Mar 02, 2016 12:51AM  
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Joy Kogawa was born in Vancouver in 1935 to Japanese-Canadian parents. During WWII, Joy and her family were forced to move to Slocan, British Columbia, an injustice Kogawa addresses in her 1981 novel, Obasan. Kogawa has worked to educate Canadians about the history of Japanese Canadians and she was active in the fight for official governmental redress.

Kogawa studied at the University of Alberta a
...more
More about Joy Kogawa...

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“From my years of teaching I know it's the children who say nothing who are in trouble more than the ones who complain.” 6 likes
“Where do any of us come from in this cold country? Oh Canada, whether you admitted it or not, we come from you we come from you. From the same soil, the slugs and slime and bogs and twigs and roots. We come from the country that plucks its people out like weeds and flings them into the roadside. We grow in ditches and sloughs, untended and spindly. We erupt in the valleys and mountainsides, in small towns and back alleys, sprouting upside-down on the prairies, our hair wild as spiders' legs, our feet rooted nowhere. We grow where we are not seen, we flourish where we are not heard, the thick undergrowth of an unlikely planting. Where do we come from Obasan? We come from cemetaries full of skeletons with wild roses in their grinning teeth. We come from our untold tales that wait for their telling. We come from Canada, this land that is like every land, filled with the wise, the fearful, the compassionate, the corrupt.” 2 likes
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