“A quarter century later, I recognize that Obasan is the Asian North American text that I have taught most frequently—and that it does all the work I demanded of it in the mid-1980s and more. It has grown in richness and complexity over the years of teaching and learning (for I am constantly learning from the texts I teach) to the point where it resonates with many of the major issues and themes I consider necessary to explore in a course on Asian American literature.

― Donald C. Goellnicht, American Book Review

Joy Kogawa and Her Work

Joy Kogawa, CM, OBC, poet, novelist, and activist, is one of the most influential Canadian authors of Japanese descent. She is celebrated both for her writing that has been deeply influenced by the Japanese Canadian World War II experience and her work in the Redress Movement to obtain compensation and reparation for her community.

Memoirs

Gently to Nagasaki

Gently to Nagasaki (2016) – Memoir of Joy Kogawa’s life as a writer and social activist, from redress to environmentalism to nuclear energy. Focus begins wide and then closely examines family transgressions, including those of her father, Rev. Gordon Goichi Nakayama, and struggles to rebuild broken trust.

Novel Summaries

Obasan

Obasan (1981) – This award-winning poetic novel chronicles Canada’s internment and persecution of its citizens of Japanese descent during the Second World War from the perspective of a young child. The first novel to share this personal experience with Canadians, published by an Asian Canadian woman with a literary trade publisher. On curriculum lists around the world; translated into Japanese, French, and German.

Naomi’s Road

Naomi’s Road (1986) – Children’s novel based on Obasan, tells the internment story more personally from the perspective of six-year-old Naomi. Vancouver Opera in Schools toured a production of Naomi’s Road to schools throughout British Columbia, across Canada, and in Seattle in 2005–2006.

Naomi’s Tree

Naomi’s Tree (2008) – Children’s picture book illustrated by Ruth Ohi. Tells the story of the loyal cherry tree that grows in the backyard of Naomi Nakane’s childhood home. After she and her family are forced to leave, the tree remembers her across the miles and years. A story of friendship and forgiveness.

Itsuka

Itsuka (1992) – Novel followup to Obasan, Naomi travels from southern Alberta to join Aunt Emily and her political activism for Redress in Toronto. Republished as Emily Kato (2005), with an additional plotline involving an Armenian priest reconciling the Genocide (1915–1916). Original plotline re-released as Itsuka (2019).

The Rain Ascends

The Rain Ascends (2005) – Novel that addresses the complex issue of child sexual abuse, by refusing to portray the perpetrator as inhumanely evil, or his victims as inhumanely hapless. The novel’s protagonist is a White Anglican priest in a veiled attempt to deal with her father’s own pedophilia.

Poetry Collections

A Garden of Anchors

A Garden of Anchors (2003) – Selected poems, some new and others previously published. Includes “What Do I Remember of the Evacuation” (40–50) and “Where There’s a Wall” (42–43).

A Song of Lilith

A Song of Lilith (2000) – Poems in response to artwork by Lillian Broca, again celebrating and for women.

Woman in the Woods

Woman in the Woods (1985) – Poems in this collection introduce a definite more feminist stance.

Jericho Road

Jericho Road (1977) – Collection of poems in which the notion of silence generating meaning reappears.

A Choice of Dreams

A Choice of Dreams (1974) – Poetry collection resulting from Kogawa’s first trip to Japan.

The Splintered Moon

The Splintered Moon (1968) – First collection of poems, many written while raising small children while living in Saskatchewan with her ex-husband, David, and while studying at the University of Saskatoon.

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