Kogawa, Joy

views updated May 29 2018

Joy Kogawa

BORN: 1935, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


GENRE: Poetry, fiction

The Splintered Moon (1968)
Obasan (1981)
Woman in the Woods (1985)
Itsuka (1992)
The Rain Ascends (1995)


Joy Kogawa is an award-winning author who became a member of the Order of Canada in 1986 and of the Order of British Columbia in 2006. She is recognized for her novels, poetry, essays, children's stories, and social activism; she is best known for Obasan (1981), a semi-autobiographical novel about the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Early Internment Joy Nozomi Nakayama was born on June 6, 1935, in Vancouver to Gordon Goichi Nakayama, an Anglican clergyman, and Lois Masui Yao Nakayama, a kindergarten teacher. In 1942, the year following the attack on Pearl Harbor and Canada's declaration of war on Japan, some twenty-one thousand

residents of Japanese ancestry living within one hundred miles of the Pacific Coast were moved to labor and detention camps in the interior of British Columbia. Except for personal belongings, all of their property was confiscated. The Nakayama family was sent to Slocan and, like the protagonist of Obasan (1981), underwent their internment in the Canadian interior.

Postwar Exile and Early Career After the end of the war in 1945, Japanese Canadians were given the choice of returning to Japan or going into internal exile east of British Columbia. The Nakayamas, who identified themselves as Canadians, were relocated to Coaldale, Alberta.

In 1954, Joy completed a year of study at the University of Alberta and took a teaching post at an elementary school in Coaldale. In 1955, she enrolled at the Anglican Women's Training College and Conservatory of Music in Toronto; the following year she transferred to a music school in Vancouver. Joy married David Kogawa in 1957, and the couple lived in several places throughout Canada before divorcing in 1968.

In 1968, Kogawa published her first poetry collection, The Splintered Moon. The next year she traveled to Japan, remaining there for three months. Her second poetry collection, A Choice of Dreams (1974), resulted, in part, from that visit. This collection was to begin her use of silence as a means of finding and expressing issues of identity, which anticipated her works to follow. From 1974 to 1976, Kogawa worked as a staff writer in the office of the prime minister, and a year later her next poetry collection, Jericho Road, appeared. In several poems in the book the notion of silence generating meaning reappears.

Garnering Widespread Critical Acclaim In 1978, the same year she was a writer in residence at the University of Ottawa, Kogawa published Six Poems. Kogawa moved to Toronto in 1979. In 1981, she published Obasan—the first novel in the history of Canadian fiction to deal with the internment of Japanese Canadians. Kogawa garnered widespread critical attention, receiving the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Canadian Authors' Association Book of the Year Award, the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, and the American Library Association Notable Book Award in 1982. Obasan also brought Kogawa international recognition.

In 1984, Kogawa visited Japan for the second time. The following year, she published Woman in the Woods, which introduced a more pronounced feminist voice than her previous poetry collections. In 1992, Itsuka, a sequel to Obasan, appeared. In 1995 Kogawa published The Rain Ascends, a fictional account of sexual abuse by an Anglican priest. In 1998, Knox received a request from Kristine Bogyo, a classical-music performer, to write a narrative on the Lilith myth for a multimedia performance that would include narrated text, artwork, and music. Kogawa's first impulse had been to decline: Community work was consuming most of her time, and she was not familiar with the Lilith material. But, she says in the author's preface to the published text of the work, when she received the artwork of Lilian Broca that was to be used in the project, she felt “deluged” with the “rich, powerful images.” Broca also sent Kogawa an outline of her research on Lilith, and Kogawa was captivated by the beauty of the legend and the strong character of Lilith. The published version of the collaboration appeared in 2000 as A Song of Lilith.

Kogawa Namesakes In 2001, Kogawa received a lifetime achievement award from the Association of Asian American Studies and honorary doctorates from the University of British Columbia in 2001 and Queen's University and the University of Windsor in 2003. In 2006, Kogawa was made a member of the Order of British Columbia, and a campaign was launched to make Kogawa's childhood home a venue for the Writers in Residence program and a historic literary landmark for Vancouver and all of Canada.


Kogawa's famous contemporaries include:

Dame Julie Andrews (1935–): English performer of several decades, she has won multiple awards for her work in popular musicals and is loved on both sides of the world.

Václav Havel (1936–): Czech writer and dramatist, he was the ninth and final president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.

Elgar Howarth (1935–): English conductor and composer, this former trumpet player has contributed his talents the world over.

Joe Orton (1933–1967): English satirical playwright who wrote risqué black comedies that shocked and amused his audiences.

John Updike (1932–): Award-winning novelist, essayist, and literary critic who is often appreciated for his in-depth chronicling of American psychological, social, and political cultures.

Works in Literary Context

Spare, Minimalist Style Kogawa writes much of her poetry in a bold style that is close to journalism. Characteristic of what is considered “minimalist,” for example, is The Splintered Moon (1968). The twenty-one poems offer a glimpse into a world of emotional intensity and spiritual longing underscored by Kogawa's spare, stark, style. Kogawa's experiences living in exile in Japanese internment camps with her family during World War II provide the inspiration for her writing and continue to influence the trajectory of her career as an author and advocate of human rights.

Themes of Memory and Identity Kogawa's minimalist world nonetheless presents a complex interweaving of the particular and universal, the private and social. In both her fiction and her poetry she addresses issues of racial and cultural diversity, persecution, and self-identity. What is central to most of her work is a theme of racial memory and history that helps address such issues. This is addressed for the first time in “We Had Not Seen It,” the only prose poem in The Splintered Moon. Exploration of memory takes on a personal tone in her love lyric “In Memory,” and the creation of reality and identity through words is the theme of “As Though It Were the Earth.” Six Poems displays a continuity with previous collections through the exploration of the significance of collective memory.

Six Poems also continues the emphasis on the dual construction of silence and speech that runs through her work with the themes of memory and identity and symbolic stone imagery that all lend themselves to and anticipate the highly acclaimed Obasan (1981)—wherein memory is holistic and healing and the only truth that is given to the narrator. “There is a silence that cannot speak. There is a silence that will not speak…. The wordis stone.” The opening words of the novel define the spiritual quest for the articulation of memory for an author and poet who has become a voice of the three generations of Japanese Canadians who suffered internment and persecution during World War II.

Works in Critical Context

Critics have praised Kogawa's poetry for its concise, poetic language. As Edward M. White noted the poet has a “magical ability to convey suffering and privation, inhumanity and racial prejudice, without losing in any way joy in life and in the poetic imagination.” Gary Willis observed that Kogawa's first three volumes of poetry are filled with “lyric verse” and poems that often “express feelings that emerge from a narrative context that is only partly defined.”

Although Kogawa's poetry has received favorable reviews, most critics have focused on her novel, Obasan, which concerns the development of a third-generation Japanese Canadian named Naomi Nakane.

Obasan (1981) The novel, which includes many autobiographical details, is narrated by Naomi Nakane, a thirty-six-year-old schoolteacher. In addition to winning a great number of awards, Obasan was highly acclaimed by critics. Speaking for the general reception of the novel of “expressive realism,” Cynthia Wong bestowed praise on the author for making efforts to address those social injustices left out of “official” histories; Wong also praises the “skeletal story conveyed with all the cadence and intonation of poetry; the powerful evocation of imposed silence … rendered with aching beauty in the prose.” In his essay Speaking the Silence: Joy Kogawa's ‘Obasan’;, Willis examines Kogawa's use of silence, speech, and insight in Obasan, arguing that in this work Kogawa “wishes to define, in relation to each other, Japanese and Canadian ways of seeing, and even to combine these divergent perceptions in an integrated and distinctive vision … the book is an imaginative triumph over the forces that militate against expression of our inmost feelings.” Likewise, Edward M. White praises the book in his review The Silences That Speak from Stone and calls attention to the significance of its voice, “Kogawa's novel must be heard and admired; the art itself can claim the real last word, exposing the viciousness of the racist horror, embodying the beauty that somehow, wonderfully, survives.”


One of the more important aspects of Kogawa's work is her concern with giving a hearing to marginalized voices and rethinking the processes of Canadian history, identity, truth, and memory. Here are a few works by writers who also made efforts to give voices to the marginalized by writing on similar themes:

Things Fall Apart (1959), a novel by Chinua Achebe. Renowned as the most widely read piece of African literature, the work tells the story of colonialism and its invasive and destructive impact on Nigerian tribal culture.

Death of a Naturalist (1966), a poetry collection by Seamus Heaney. In this work, Heaney depicts childhood, reflects on identity, and concerns the settings of rural Ireland.

Catfish and Mandala (2000), a novel by Andrew Pham. In this work, the author visits his native Vietnam to find his true self and his place in two cultures.

Sovereign Bones (2007), stories and essay collected by Eric Gansworth. In this book, Native American authors write on the imperative of keeping a collective identity.

Responses to Literature

  1. Several of Kogawa's works are meditations on the lessons of history. In a group effort, research significant events reflected on in her writings—such as the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan and the subsequent nuclear attack on Hiroshima by the United States. What “lessons” appear to be learned?
  2. In Obasan Kogawa's narrator notes, “All our ordinary stories are changed in time, altered as much by the present as the present is shaped by the past. Potent and pervasive as a prairie dust storm, memories and dreams seep and mingle through cracks, settling on furniture and into upholstery.” Discuss several ways in which Kogawa uses memory to find, define, and/or establish identity—her own or that of her culture. Provide examples from the texts. For instance, in Obasan, Naomi's earliest memories of being one with her mother in womb-like comfort and belonging are thoroughly described.
  3. With Obasan, writes Gurleen Grewal, “Kogawa proved herself to be among the finest of feminist-humanist writers.” Kogawa's feminism is also evident in her poetry, starting with her first collection, The Splintered Moon (1968). Research feminism in Canada. Consider surveying the sports world, the educational arena, and the work world of Canada. When did people begin to acknowledge women's equality? How is the movement reflected in Kogawa's work?
  4. Several of Kogawa's works isolate a trivial activity that the poet makes meaningful as a ritual and as an experience of belonging to and sharing in the Japanese culture. Identify an example of Kogawa's use of ethnic traditions in her work, and discuss how she depicts a cultural connection through this tradition.



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 78. Detroit: Gale, 1994.

Grewal, Gurleen. Feminist Writers. Detroit: St. JamesPress, 1996.

Hogan, Robert and others, eds. Memory and Cultural Politics: New Essays in American Ethnic Literatures. Boston: North Eastern University Press, 1996.

Williamson, Janice. Sounding Differences: Conversations with 17 Canadian Women Writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

Wong, Cynthia. Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.


White, Edmund M. Review of Obasan. Los Angeles TimesBook Review (July 11, 1982): 3.

Willis, Gary. Review of Obasan. Studies in Canadian Literature, vol. 12, no. 2 (1987): 239–49.

Web sites

The Canadian Encyclopedia. Kogawa, Joy Nozomi. Retrieved May 16, 2008, from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004362.

Famous Canadian Immigrant Writers. Joy Kogawa. Retrieved May 16, 2008, from http://www.canadianimmigrant.org/IMMIGRANTSTORIES/ImmigrantstoriesbyCanadianauthors.htm.

The Land Conservancy. Welcome to Historic Joy Kogawa House. Retrieved May 16, 2008, from http://www.kogawahouse.com.

Voices from the Gaps (VG). Joy Nakayama Kogawa b. 1935. Retrieved May 16, 2008, from http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/kogawa_joy_nakayama.html.

Kogawa, Joy Nozomi

views updated May 11 2018

Joy Nozomi Kogawa

Writer and activist Joy Nozomi Kogawa (born 1935) has combined personal, historic, and political endeavors in critically acclaimed literary works to shed light on the injustices suffered by Japanese Canadians during World War II. Her versatility as a poet, novelist, children's author, and speaker has resulted in an unusually broad audience for her challenging and humanitarian subject matter.

Early Life

Joy Nozomi Kogawa was born Joy Nakayama on June 6, 1935, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her parents, both issei—first–generation, born in Japan—immigrated to Canada's west coast before Joy was born. Her mother Lois Yao Nakayama worked as a kindergarten teacher, while her father Gordon Goichi Nakayama made his living as a minister. Kogawa was raised as a nisei—second–generation child of Japanese immigrants—and began her childhood in a predominantly white, middle–class community.

The harsh reality of World War II flooded Canadian and American coastal societies alike with government–enacted racism. All Canadian citizens of Japanese descent living on the coast were suspected of being allied with Japan—potential spies for the enemy. Kogawa, age six at the time, and her family were "evacuated" to the interior of the province to Slocan—described in Cynthia Wong's 2000 Asian American Novelists biography as "a ghost town in the old silver-mining region of eastern British Columbia." They were put to work in the beet fields with the other families under the Canadian government's "dispersal policy." Regardless of the terms used to describe the exodus—evacuation, relocation, dispersal—Kogawa often clarifies that they were essentially imprisoned in internment camps, their property liquidated and sold, despite the fact that not a single Japanese Canadian was ever found to be a traitor.


Kogawa's primary and secondary education was gleaned from the poorly–funded and poorly–staffed schools run by the various detention centers she and her family inhabited. She began school in Slocan, continued in Saskatoon, then settled in Coaldale, Alberta. She attended the University of Alberta in 1954, studying theology and music as well as writing and literature. In 1956, she took courses at the Anglican Women's Training College and the Conservatory of Music. She married David Kogawa on May 2, 1957 and they had two children together, a son named Gordon and a daughter named Deidre. She attended the University of Saskatchewan in 1968, then worked as a school teacher until approximately 1974.

Life as a Writer

Her first position as a writer was composing correspondence for the Office of the Prime Minister in Ottawa, Ontario from 1974 to 1976. When she completed her stint there, she began to work as a freelance writer—the occupation she still lists today. Her literary career began with her first poetry collection The Splintered Moon, published in 1968 and followed by A Choice of Dreams (1974), Jericho Road (1977), and Six Poems (1978). She successfully contributed pieces to many literary publications, from anthologies to poetry reviews, including Canadian Forum, West Coast Review, Quarry, and the Chicago Review. She served a term as Writer in Residence at the University of Ottawa in 1977, and became a member of the Canadian League of Poets, the Writer's Union of Canada, and the Order of Canada in 1986.

Kogawa then decided to try her hand at fiction. Her novel Obasan, Japanese for aunt, was first published in the early 1980's when Japanse Canadians began demanding reparation for their forced internment from the Canadian government. Kogawa's novel featured female protagonist Naomi Nakane who is sent to a detention camp with her family at the same age that Kogawa herself was "evacuated." Kogawa has stated in interviews that Obasan is intensely autobiographical, a story about breaking an imposed silence in order to induce healing. She followed the success of this novel with a sequel titled Itsuka, Japanese for someday, written 11 years later, and published in 1992. Itsuka follows the characters introduced in Obasan as they seek to chronicle the fight for governmental recompense.

The 1980's were a rewarding decade for Kogawa. In 1985, she published another collection of poetry titled Woman in the Woods, and Obasan received a windfall of awards, acclaim, and attention. Its success prompted Kogawa to adapt the story for a younger audience, in the hope of influencing the way future generations would learn about this dark period in Canadian history. The adaptation, titled Naomi's Road, was quickly translated into Japanese in 1988 (Naomi no Michi) and released in Tokyo as well as in Canada. This Japanese issue is still used as a school textbook in Japan, and considered to be relevant and accurate despite its fictional framework. Kogawa also addressed the injustice Japanese Canadians faced during that time in a series of essays and interviews that identified her as an activist fighting for the redress of people like herself.

In 1995, she released the novel The Rain Ascends, an emotionally intense story about a woman who discovers that her father, a minister, had sexually abused young boys in the past. The character, Millicent Shelby, faces the impossible decision of how to confront her father, and whether or not to notify the public of his transgressions. While Kogawa has suggested that the rich characterization was based largely on the memories she has of her own father being a minister, she has not made any statements to the effect that the story is autobiographical in the way her previous work has been.

Critical Reception

Touted as a superbly gifted writer, Kogawa is most famous for Obasan and Itsuka,, despite her recognized prowess as a poet. The two novels about the experiences faced by Japanese Canadians during World War II belong to a genre defined in Asian American Novelists by Linda Hutcheon as "historiographic metafiction" that "inscribes and then subverts its mimetic engagement with the world. It does not reject [mimesis] . . . but it does irrevocably change any simple notions of realism or reference, by confronting the discourse of art with the discourse of history." Another popular term for Kogawa's unique brand of fiction is "expressive realism." Obasan was the first novel to deal with the distasteful truths of internment, and its adaptation—Naomi's Road—was the first book for young readers to do the same. The word "obasan" can also mean woman in Japanese, and many feminist critics have lauded the powerful, feminist undercurrent that informs the novel's treatment of culture and racism.

In Obasan—an exploration of the critical moment when silence must be broken in order to liberate the spirit—Kogawa effortlessly combines fiction and documentary to define truth, yet manages to avoid didacticism while she's carefully criticizing oppressive systems. Asian American Novelists' Cynthia Wong praises Kogawa for trying to address the injustices left out of "official" histories through a "skeletal story conveyed with all the cadence and intonation of poetry; the powerful evocation of imposed silence . . . rendered with aching beauty in [her] prose."

Despite the fact that she is better known for her novels—which deal with the recurring themes of family honor, and endurance in the face of grave circumstances—Kogawa is also a celebrated poet. Contemporary Women Poets critic Pagnoulle remarked on the way Kogawa's poetry "elicits a sense of wondering surprise at unexpected combinations of words or at clinching assonances that suggest emotions without spelling them out." Although the material Kogawa deals with tends to fall on the darker side of the spectrum of human emotions, she is not without mirth. Pagnoulle points out that "even confronted by the most blatant injustices, [Kogawa] usually remains detached enough to instill humor in her indictment."

Much of Kogawa's poetry plays on rich veins of biblical allusions and the whispers of nursery rhymes. The reader also encounters a strong empathy for the animal world, and a deft wielding of lyricism—many of her poems presented as songs—that infuse her work with multiple layers of texture and meaning. Despite her Japanese heritage, critics agree that her work does not maintain an identifiably Asian tone or construction. The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature's Peter Stevens explains that her poetry relies on an "epigrammatic tightness . . . [that expresses] a moment's experience without comment; yet they do not, like haiku, summarize the transitory quality of the experience through a tight focus on one image, but rather state the experience directly in pared-down phrasing." Instead, she blends a traditionally Asian appreciation for silence with a distinctly Western awareness of words. Kogawa has said that the practice of poetry was, for her, "the sweeping out of debris between the conscious and the unconscious." Critics often focus their analysis of her work on the way she lets silence speak the horror of the experiences, walking the fine line between personal and social elements.

Word Warrior

In her novel Itsuka, the protagonist has grown into middle age and is searching for some closure. Kogawa, divorced in 1978, has lived and worked as a freelance writer in Toronto and Vancouver since 1979. Her rare gift for balancing the horrific with a sense of hope, and her willingness to speak her mind and heart has placed her at the forefront of the movement to obtain reparation for Japanese Canadians who were imprisoned during World War II. Her novels and essays have brought the injustices to light with both candor and courage. She has become a voice for Canada's multicultural and largely immigrant communities, attending to what Pagnoulle describes as "the impossible task of assessing responsibilities."

Pagnoulle also points out that "Kogawa does not simplify the questions for her readers; rather, she leaves them to ponder the multifaceted dimensions of the way human beings are interrelated in their destinies . . . who becomes responsible for the weakest and most vulnerable members of society when the strongest and morally righteous have failed them? . . . [and] what reparation is available to those so deeply wronged?" Until that day of reckoning arrives, and justice is served, Kogawa will continue to use her mastery of language to focus on what Feminist Writers' Gurleen Grewal calls the "arduous work of healing."


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Cheung, King–Kok, "Attentive Silence: Obasan, Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa, Cornell University Press, 1993.

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Day, Frances Ann, Multicultural Voices in Contemporary Literature, Heinemann, 1999.
The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, Yale University Press, 1990.

The International Authors and Writers Who's Who—Thirteenth Edition, Melrose Press Ltd., 1993.

International Who's Who in Poetry—Fifth Edition 1977–1978, Melrose Press Ltd., 1977.

Literature Lover's Companion, Prentice Hall Press, 2001.

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Kogawa, Joy

views updated Jun 27 2018


Nationality: Canadian. Born: Toronto, 6 June 1935. Family: Has one son and one daughter. Awards: Books in Canada First Novel award, 1981, Canadian Authors Association Book of the Year award, 1981, Before Columbus Foundation's American Book award, 1982, and American Library Association Notable Book award, 1982, all for Obasan; Ryerson Polytechnical Institute fellowship, 1991; Urban Alliance Race Relations award, 1994; Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar award, 1995. D.L.: University of Lethbridge, 1991; Simon Fraser University, 1993. D. Litt: University of Guelph, 1992. Member: Officer, Order of Canada, 1986. Address: 447 Montrose Ave., Toronto, Ontario M6G 3H2, Canada; and 845 Semlin Dr., Vancouver, British Columbia V5l 4J6, Canada.



Obasan. Toronto, Dennys, 1981; New York, Anchor, 1994.

Itsuka. New York, Viking, 1992; revised edition, New York, Penguin, 1993.

The Rain Ascends. Toronto, Knopf Canada, 1995.


The Splintered Moon. St. John, University of New Brunswick, 1967.

A Choice of Dreams. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1974.

Jericho Road. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

Woman in the Woods. Oakville, Ontario, Mosiac Press, 1985.


Naomi's Road (for children). Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1986.


Critical Studies:

Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa by King-Kok Chueng, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1993.

* * *

Joy Kogawa, after several collections of poetry, published her first novel, Obasan, in 1981. It and its sequel, Itsuka, written eleven years later, show Kogawa's poetic origins, as they are extremely lyrically written books. Obasan is the story of the internment of Japanese Canadians and Canadians of Japanese descent during World War II. In so doing, it is one of few fictional accounts of the North American treatment of ethnic Japanese during this period, others being Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart of 1943, John Okada's No-No Boy, written in 1957, Jean Wakatsuki Houston and Jones Houston's Farewell to Manzanar of 1974, and Maxine Hong Kingston's 1980 novel, China Men.

Obasan ("aunt") is a unique and successful blending of the literary, the historical, and the autobiographical. Kogawa's novel is the account of two families' experiences told primarily from the point of view of Naomi Nakane, a schoolteacher in Alberta in 1972. The occasion of her uncle's death brings her brother (Stephen), her widowed aunt (Aya Obasan), and another aunt (Emily) together for the first time in years and precipitates a series of recollections and revelations about the war that begin when Naomi was about six (and Kogawa herself about seven). The war leads to the dissolution of Naomi's parents' families, the Nakanes and the Katos, and the seizure of their property. Naomi, her brother, father, aunt, and uncle are shunted progressively further east as the internment proceeds through and after the war, ending in Canada in 1949.

Obasan 's narrative is essentially retrospective, a backward movement into Naomi's childhood seeded by a packet of materials given to her by her Aunt Emily. They lead to a series of memories of childhood as seen through the consciousness of the young Naomi, and shaped by the literary consciousness of Kogawa, who delineates a texture of symbols that become the personal metaphoric language of this book. Thus, a loaf of "stone bread" baked by her uncle just before his death becomes a symbol of a Eucharistic sort as it is eaten by his grieving relatives. It also serves as a symbol of the Japanese exile to the prairies as it is connected to the manna of Moses' people in Egypt in Obasan 's epigraph. Kogawa develops a rich texture of personal and biblical symbolism throughout to reinforce her themes.

The novel moves into the present gradually, and the past and present are linked in the import of some documentary materials which have been kept from Naomi and Stephen until their adulthood. Naomi, who has grown up with a mixture of puzzlement and misplaced guilt about the failure of her mother to return from Japan, is eventually initiated into the horrors of her death in the atomic bombing at Nagasaki through a letter from the distant past.

This news breaks the silence of the past in Obasan, and begins the process of final healing. Aunt Emily, a fully Canadianized "word warrior" who crusades for publicity or compensation in the Japanese cause, and Aya Obasan, Naomi's ancient aunt who still has only rudimentary English after spending most of her life in Canada, seem diametrically opposed in their cultural adaptations. Secretiveness about the fate of Naomi and Stephen's mother is perhaps the only thing they have in common. Yet this novel does not attempt to dichotomize attitudes to silence into "good" or "bad," and itself negotiates the fine line between telling the past and giving the present room to grow. Obasan explores language, euphemism, and silence; traces the ties of the self to family and place; and initiates the process of healing.

Itsuka ("someday") resumes Naomi's story in Toronto in 1983, and traces her involvement in the Japanese-Canadian fight for redress for the internment, as Joy Kogawa was herself involved. The novel, like Obasan, is simultaneously mixed-up in both the personal and the political, but in Itsuka the sharp line that Naomi has tried to maintain between the two in her life becomes blurred. Itsuka also shows Naomi's personal development in her tentative romance with Cedric, a priest involved in her political world.

In Itsuka, Kogawa tells a story well worth telling, but perhaps not so successfully fictionalized. At many points the narrative verges on the didactic, and the psychology of Naomi remains static and somewhat tangential to the politics of the tale she narrates.

Ron Jenkins

Kogawa, Joy Nozomi

views updated May 18 2018

KOGAWA, Joy Nozomi

KOGAWA, Joy Nozomi. Canadian, b. 1935. Genres: Novels, Poetry. Career: University of Ottawa, writer-in-residence, 1978. Publications: The Splintered Moon, 1967; A Choice of Dreams, 1974; Jericho Road, 1977; Obasan (novel), 1981; Woman in the Woods, 1985; Naomi's Road, 1986; Naomi no Michi, 1988; Itsuka (novel), 1992; The Rain Ascends (novel), 1995; A Song of Lilith, 2000.