I have chosen Joy Kogawa’s Obasan to be the ‘K’ book for my A-Z Canlit challenge. I can’t believe I have waited so long to read this book, but I was helped along by the book fairy when I recently came across a copy of it at a book sale. I snatched it up just in time to read it for my challenge.
As her website states, Joy Kogawa was born in Vancouver, BC in 1935 to Japanese-Canadian parents. Her family, as well as many other Japanese-Canadian families, were forced to evacuate their homes during the Second World War, and were not permitted to return. She writes about this injustice in her highly acclaimed book, Obasan.
In 1986, Joy Kogawa was made a Member of the Order of Canada, in 2006 she was made a Member of the Order of British Columbia, and in 2010 the Japanese government honored her with the Order of the Rising Sun.
Some of Joy Kogawa’s books include:
Obasan – This book tells the story of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, through the eyes of a child.
Itsuka, which was renamed Emily Kato on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki – This book follows the character from Obasan into adulthood, where she becomes involved in the movement for governmental redress.
The Rain Ascends – A middle-aged woman discovers that her father, an Anglican priest, has been sexually abusing boys.
A Song of Lilith – Combines poetry and artwork to tell a feminist version of the biblical story of Lilith.
Naomi’s Road – A version of Obasan for children.
Naomi’s Tree – A cherry tree in the yard of a little girl awaits her return many years later. This story has the same characters as Naomi’s Road, and is also for children.
In 2003, Joy Kogawa realized her old home in Vancouver was for sale. It was bought and, in 2005, turned into the Historic Joy Kogawa House, a place where writers can live and work in the Vancouver area. “While in residence, the writer would work to enrich the literary community… and foster an appreciation for Canadian writing through programs that involve students, other established and emerging writers, and members of the general public”.
In 2013, George Stroumboulopolis conducted an interview with Joy Kogawa on his show. They talked about the memoir she is working on, the impact and importance of her book Obasan, and how her Historic Joy Kogawa House came about. The video includes a clip of Ed Broadbent reading from Obasan in Parliament, as well as Brian Mulroney giving an official apology to all Japanese-Canadians for the injustices they suffered by the Canadian government during WWII and its aftermath.
Here’s an interview with Joy Kogawa in The Origami, on reconciling with Japan’s past.
“What we are facing on this planet—the global warming, climate change, this catastrophe that is coming—and we are stuck in our animosities and our greed, and we can’t do what we are here for. What I want to be is part of un-sticking. I want us to work together to understand that “enemy is the best friend.” I want to see people, descendants of the perpetrators, take back…it’s just like the German students who heard about the Holocaust; then they grieved. The country grieved. And Japan has not yet grieved. It needs to grieve if it wants to become whole—in order for there to be peace in Asia, if they want to work together on climate change, which we do.”