Joy Kogawa sharing her happiness with the audience that her novel “Obasan” at the premiere event for One Book One Vancouver – photo Todd Wong
A very HAPPY Joy Kogawa shared her pleasure with the audience at the opening event for One Book One Vancouver
at VPL's Central Branch on Tuesday, May 24th. Obasan is the
novel written about a young girl's journey through the Japanese
Canadian internment camps of WW2, when the Canadian government branded
all Canadians of Japanese descent as aliens, in its misguided efforts
to ensure homeland security.
The title, Obasan, actually means “aunt” in Japanese, and it is to her
aunt that the young character Naomi looks up to. Obasan is
considered one of the most important Canadin books of the last 30
years, according to Prof. Roy Miki, who along with Kogawa and his
brother Art, worked to secure redress for Japanese Canadians from the
“I am very happy today,” said Kogawa, as she tried to describe what it
meant to her to have Obasan chosen as the book all Vancouverites should
read. Kogawa described her conversation earlier in the day with
her friend fellow author Alice Munro who had recieved the Terasen Life
Time Achievment award as part of the VPL Central Library's 10th
Anniverasay celebrations. “It just keeps getting better and
better, she told me – the recognition and awards. I guess I will
have to accept it,” Kogawa smiled.
Kogawa said that when she first heard about the Redress settlement from
the Canadian government, she was very happy. “But it was over so
quickly – the moment passed. I'm going to savour this one.”
Throughout the summer, VPL will hold many events based on the themes of
Obasan. One Book One Vancouver is described as a book club for
the entire city. The closing event will be at Word On the Street
Festival September 25th.
Kogawa answered many questions after her all too brief talk. When
I asked her which Asian Canadian writers that she liked personally she
said, “Oh, there are so many now. When Roy and I started there
weren't very many…. of course we all love Wayson Choy.” she said.
When asked what was happening with the Kogawa homestead
in Vancouver's Marpole neighborhood, Joy replied: “When we rediscovered
it was still there, Tim and I tried to buy it but we didn't have enough
money, so I let the idea go. When Roy Miki organized the reading
at the house, it was very special. I was very excited to see the
cheerry tree again.” Then Joy held up a little plastic bag and
Seeds from the cherry tree,” as she smiled broadly.
Joy speaks very clearly, patiently and perceptively. She shares
with the audience that Obasan was also just chosen for the One Book
program in Medicine Hat. She answers questions about what it was
like living in internment camps, as she describes that some readers
have felt that the condtions were so inconcievable that it must have
been fiction. Joy counted the members of her family, plus her
father's friends that all lived in a chicken coop filled with fleas and
“12 of us… after she names each person.”
At the end of the evening many people thank Joy for such an inspiring
talk. She shared her buddhist philosophy of “letting go” when
asked about dealing with the pain and suffering. She shared her
perception of American Christians creating a Christian bomb that landed
on the most important Christian Cathedral in Japan.
“Joy Kogawa teaches us to be better Canadians,” I shared with Richard
Hopkins, professor at the University of BC Library School.
Richard smiled and said succintly, “Joy Kogawa teaches us to be better
The next Joy Kogawa events are:
Thursday night at the Vancouver Museum for a sampling of the songs from
Vancouver Opera's forthcoming production of Naomi's Road, based on Joy
Kogawa's children's book.
Saturday night at Our Town Cafe for a sampling of Asian Canadian
writers featuring Kogawa, Alexis Keinlein and Gleen Deer. organized by Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop.
Joy Kogawa signing books
with Janice Douglas (VPL Director of Community Programs) and Paul
Whitney (VPL City Librarian) – photo Todd Wong
Joy Kogawa signs a book for VPL Board Member Chrissy George – photo Todd Wong
Relaxing after the reading: Rev. Tim Nakamura (Joy's brother), Prof. Roy Miki, Joy Kogawa, and Todd Wong – photo by David Kogawa