Obasan by Joy Kogawa


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.  I was under the impression that they did not have to forfeit their homes or other belongings, but as in America, leaving homes and possessions behind often meant finding squatters in them and their furniture missing upon their return.

What’s more, in 1944 President Roosevelt ordered the internment camps closed in the United States, but Kogawa’s family and other Japanese interned in Canada were not allowed to leave their camps until 1949.

I had mixed feelings about this novel.  The content was worthy of 5 stars.  I really enjoyed learning about the fate of Canadians of Japanese descent during World War II.  From family letters, newspaper clippings and other research, Kogawa presents a clear picture of this part of Canadian history.  I did feel that the outspokenness of the female characters felt more in line with the year the book was written, rather than the 1940’s.  Also, from a literary standpoint, the novel often felt disjointed and the characters distant.  Because of the latter problems, I can only give this book 3 1/2 stars.  Even so, it is definitely worth reading.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1993
320 pages


About Suzanne

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three kids who loves to read.
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