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Joy Kowaga’s Obasan is a novel that uses the device of memory and flashbacks as a means of telling the story of Japanese Canadians who were forced into camps during World War II. The purpose of the government’s policy was to assure that no Japanese would become spies, which included shipping them to abandoned mining camps in deplorable condition, seizing their property, and splitting up families without concern. Naomi, a school teacher, was a young girl when this happened and her story centers around the decimation visited upon Japanese families in Canada during this forced encampment. When Naomi is a child of four, she is molested by Old Man Gower. The presumed rape of Naomi, and its violent implications, are extremely crucial as an underscoring of the theme of the novel—that those who are treated violently and controlled by dominant forces often lose their voice and have their reality fragmented. We see that the forced encampment of Japanese families was akin to raping them. From Obasan, Naomi’s grandmother, who has been turned to stone by the slings and arrows of life, to Emily, her activist aunt who tries to combat the forces imposed upon her, Naomi continually searches for her mother’s voice and her own as she tries to piece together the broken and leftover fragments of her and her family’s life.

The isolation, ostracism, racism and splitting up of families created by forced encampment have diminished Naomi’s voice and soul. She is always silent. She is always deadening herself to deal with the emotional traumas all about her. And she is always seeking some kind of light or voice to make things whole again. Her mother disappeared when she was a young child and this began a lifelong mission to understand, to find identity, to find love in the midst of violence and hate, and to find wholeness from fragmentation. As she says of her mother’s departure, “I hardly dare to think, let alone ask, why she has...

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Obasan. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:35, May 19, 2019, from