Obasan Background

Obasan Background

Joy Kogawa is a Japanese-Canadian novelist born on June 6, 1935 in Vancouver, British Columbia. During World War II, she and her family were forced to move from their home to an internment camp in Slocan, British Columbia and eventually Coaldale, Alberta. At the war’s conclusion, Kogawa attended the University of Alberta to study education and later enrolled at the University of Toronto to study music. She is well-known for her participation in the Redress Movement, which demanded reparations for the Japanese community impacted by forced migration during WWII. Kogawa’s experiences during this time period heavily influenced her novel, Obasan, which tells the story of a 36-year-old Japanese-Canadian woman who reminisces on her childhood during the war.

The publication of Obasan in 1981 was a turning point for writer Joy Kogawa. Previously, she had only released her works of poetry, but this novel brought her into the worldwide literary spotlight. Obasan received much praise from critics and won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Canadian Authors Association Book of the Year Award, and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. It was also named as one of the most important books in Canadian literature by the Literary Review of Canada.

Kogawa’s novel is often named as required reading in classrooms for its admirable depiction of the Japanese-Canadian experience. As Cynthia Wong wrote in Reading Asian-American Literature, Kogawa successfully integrates "political understanding and literary artistry" and portrays an authentic "pan-Asian sensibility." Joy Kogawa brought to light the harrowing conditions of internment camps through the art of her writing.

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