How important is Joy Kogawa and her novel Obasan to Canada? Obasan was chosen twice, amongst the panel of 5, for their top ten most important Canadian literary works. Only 5 works were chosen twice or more… and Obasan was one of them!

Reading the Globe & Mail on Canada Day morning should be a tradition. Except for all the other FREE Canada Day activities and events that are happening out there, and you have to get out early to beat the crowds or to find parking. Canadians are proud of their authors, it helps us define who we are, as well as our history and our psyche. It also adds “Canadian content” to our newspapers and media stories.

The Globe and Mail’s John Adams explains:

“Thirty years ago dozens of scholars, critics, authors and publishing types gathered for four days in Calgary for what was billed as the National Conference on the Canadian Novel…. We enlisted a panel of five – three women, two men, from across the country, all well-read in Canadian literature and deeply knowledgeable of its history. Each was asked to come up with his or her own Top 10 annotated list of Canadian English-language fiction titles.”

Upon reading the list of authors and titles, the first thing that struck me was the inclusion of authors of ethnic diversity. 30 years ago we didn’t really have authors of colour considered as important for Canadian fiction. Joy Kogawa’s Obasan came out in 1981, and really lead the way for the acceptance of Asian-Canadian literature. Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, came out in 1987.

I was surprised by the inclusion of SKY Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe (1990), because Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony (1995) is usually cited and lauded but it was missing on these lists. But for me, I couldn’t put Disappearing Moon Cafe down, once I had started. It took me several starts to get into The Jade Peony, and it wasn’t until I was on the Vancouver Public Library’s inaugural One Book One Vancouver committee that had chosen The Jade Peony as it’s an inaugural choice, that I actually finished reading it.

Check out the list at “Taking a shot at a new canon” by James Adams of the Globe and Mail.

Of particular interest:

Joy Kogawa: Obasan (1981) is selected twice. This novel broaches the difficult topic of the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. My students were profoundly moved by the way the lyrical prose personalized the political agenda.

Lucy Maud Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables (1908) is selected 3 times.

Elizabeth Smart: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945) is selected 3 times.

Margaret Laurence: The Stone Angel (1964) is selected 3 times.

Alice Munro: Lives of Girls and Women: A Novel (1971) is selected 3 times. Readers have long argued whether this is a novel or a collection of short stories. Whatever it is, it’s an uncanny portrait of the artist as a young Souwesto girl.

Leonard Cohen: Beautiful Losers (1966) is selected twice.

Sky Lee: The Disappearing Moon Café (1990). This novel about four generations of a Chinese family in Vancouver is an amazing evocation of Sophocles-like angst and sturm und drang.

Margaret Atwood is named twice but for different books

Michael Ondaatje is named twice for different books.