Born and raised in sunny Los Angeles, she lived in New York City for 10 years before relocating down to Dixie, where she is comfortably growing fat on grits and barbecue. When not writing, she can be find rock-climbing, skydiving, taking photographs, drawing pictures, and dragging her dog on ridiculously long hikes. More here. […]
If you grew up in British Columbia like I did, chances are you read this semi-autobiographical novel in high school. Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, which means aunt in Japanese, tells the story of Naomi Nakane, a schoolteacher in a small Canadian town who recounts her painful experiences as a Japanese-Canadian child in World War Two-era British Columbia and the impact these experiences had on her and her family.
Fans of former Star Trek star and social media darling George Takei will likely be familiar with the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War – the music Allegiance is based on the experiences of Takei and his family, who were forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
The internment of citizens of Japanese descent occurred in Canada as well as in the Unite States, beginning after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and lasting until 1949, several years after Japan’s surrender. Japanese-language newspapers were shuttered, and the government seized and sold property owned by Japanese Canadians, including business and homes. Like Kogawa’s character Naomi Nakane, Japanese Canadian families were relocated to small communities in the interior of the country, where many were forced to remain, even after the end of the war. Japanese Canadian families lost most or all of their material goods, lived in harsh conditions and experienced systemic racism and prejudice, all of which left emotional and psychological scars on the people who lived through this period.
Obasan is a sensitive, deeply moving, painful yet quietly hopeful account of the internment of a Japanese-Canadian family and the lingering impact the experience had on individuals, particularly children. Kogawa weaves several stories and perspectives together, moving from Naomi’s adulthood in 1970s Alberta to her childhood in the 1940s in Vancouver and Slocan, British Columbia, and introduces characters of several generations from both Canada and Japan. The trials Naomi and her family endure are terrible, pushing the characters to their breaking points, and Kogawa doesn’t shy away from hard, painful truths. Sexual abuse, animal cruelty, parental abandonment, depression, racism, isolation, repression, cultural taboos, violence, war, death – all are discussed and laid bare in this complex novel.
When first published in 1981, Obasan received lukewarm reviews. The prose was complex and lyrical, which some reviewers found too complex, even confusing. The content was graphic and unsettling, which some readers considered too negative for young people. Perhaps more unsettling, though, was the fact that Obasan called on Canadians to admit to a dark, embarrassing, painful period in their history, and accept the lingering damage their actions had caused countless innocent people. Obasan refused to allowed Canadians to hide from their past, and called on all citizens to look to their past to ensure that such dark times could never be repeated.
Obasan went on to win the Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Canadian Authors Association Book of the Year Award, and Kogawa, who began her literary career as a poet, was awarded the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia, and the Order of the Rising Sun. The novel has since become a modern Canadian classic, and is required reading in many high schools and colleges throughout the country, but particularly in Kogawa’s home province of British Columbia.
When rumors of an uprising in Metaltown’s factories hits Bakerstown, sixteen-year-old wannabe reporter Caris knows she’s found the story that will finally prove her worth to the Journal. “Burned Away” is a standalone story set in the world of Metaltown. Janet: The cover doesn’t excite, and the back copy is aimed at readers of Metaltown. I […]
Paperback, 288 pages Published November 1st 2016 by Penguin Books Canada Source: Publisher At only five years old, Saroo Brierley got lost on a train in India. Unable to read or write or recall the name of his hometown or even his own last name, he survived alone for weeks on the rough streets of […]
Hardcover, 44 pages Expected publication: March 7th 2017 by Chronicle Books Source: Raincoast Books With evocative and vivid art, Marc Martin’s A River straddles the fence between fiction and nonfiction. Educators will find they can use this picturebook to teach their young students lessons about the environment and how rivers affect changes in the landscape. […]
In Him Standing by Richard Wagamese, Lucas Smoke, a young Ojibway man who earns his living by carving likenesses on the boardwalk, finds himself pulled into a centuries-old struggle – and Lucas is being used by the side he wants to oppose. When Lucas Smoke learns the Ojibway art of carving from his grandfather, he discovers […]
It’s never too early to introduce children to fantastic Aboriginal art, culture and traditions! Goodnight World is a beautiful baby book that’s brimming with colour and life, and is perfect for sharing with the little ones in your life. This beautiful board book is a perfect bedtime read for families with young children. Little ones can […]
Hardcover, 192 pages Expected publication: March 7th 2017 by Clarion Books Source: Raincoast Books Fish Girl presents an eerie landscape that blurs the edges between reality and magic. The fish girl lives in an aquarium on a boardwalk with her sea creatures (the octopus in particular) and the self-titled Neptune for company. Visitors to the […]
Paperback, 156 pages Published November 12th 2013 by Hanging Loose Press Source: Library Sherman Alexie is better known for his amazing novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian but just as popular among the older set are his poems. I managed to hunt down and read What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned and […]
Welcome to March! When we planned out this year’s monthly themes, Indigenous Literature was one of the first (possibly the first) themes we proposed and (vocally and) unanimously agreed upon. The word Indigenous within a Canadian context encompasses First Nations and Inuit and Métis peoples. Indigenous Literature in North America was once almost exclusively written by white settlers, […]
“Rise to the occasion. Rise.” Roxanne Gay gave a keynote speech at the Winter Institute last month (January 27-30, 2017). The Children’s Literature Association has announced its unequivocal opposition to the US government’s immigration ban and endorsed the MLA statement on the 2016 disaster of a presidential election. The text can be found on the ChLA website, […]