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Stories For Children, Histories of Childhood / Histoires d'enfant, histoires d'enfance. Tome II

 | 
Rosie Findlay
, 
Sébastien Salbayre

Representing War Trauma in Children’s Fiction: A Child in Prison Camp and Naomi’s Road

Térèsa Gibert

Résumé

Representing War Trauma in Children’s Fiction: A Child in Prison Camp and Naomi’s Road
Shizuye Takashima (1928-2005) and Joy Kogawa (b. 1935) were aged 13 and 7 respectively in 1942 when they were abruptly uprooted from their native Vancouver and confined in “relocation camps” in the interior of British Columbia, where they endured physical, emotional and economic hardships. Both girls were among the 21,700 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly removed from their Pacific Coast homes during the Second World War. Several decades after their ordeal, Takashima and Kogawa published A Child in Prison Camp (1971) and Naomi’s Road (1986) to make children acquainted with this painful episode of Canadian history. Although the issues addressed throughout these two highly poetic pieces of autobiographical fiction are complex—for they explore a war-related individual and collective trauma with historical precision—the language used in them is simple and direct. Both first-person narrators are young girls perceptively observing the world around them. In a time of great sorrow, they find comfort and delight in the spectacular scenery of the Rocky Mountains, evade reality through imaginary voyages to their former Vancouver homes or to exotic countries, and discover that musical enjoyment grants them the peace of mind they desperately need in a world shattered by violence.

Texte intégral

  • 1 For a more detailed analysis of how Joy Kogawa rewrote historical events in her fiction, see Giber (...)
  • 2 For historical accounts of the Japanese Canadian experience, see Adachi, Broadfoot, Daniels, Dinne (...)
  • 3 The day before Shizuye Takashima passed away, she was visited by Joy Kogawa at the Vancouver Gener (...)

1Writing for children about children caught up in a war represents an enormous challenge. The Canadian authors of Japanese ancestry Shizuye Takashima (1928-2005) and Joy Kogawa (b. 1935) faced this great challenge when they wrote works of children’s literature about their own childhood experiences of war.1 These two women turned their tragic histories of childhood into suitable stories for children. Takashima and Kogawa were aged thirteen and seven respectively in 1942 when they, together with their families, were abruptly uprooted from their native Vancouver, to be confined in the so-called “relocation camps” in the interior of British Columbia. Both girls were among the 21,700 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly removed from their Pacific Coast homes during the Second World War, complying with orders issued by the Canadian Government after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.2 Thus, their infancy was shaped to a large extent by the physical, emotional and economic hardships they had to endure through the war and its aftermath. Although these girls did not reside on battleground, the combat between Japan and Canada made a direct, immediate and durable impact upon their lives.3

2Indeed, the effects of the armed conflict were long-lasting for the Japanese-Canadian community. Internment continued after Japan had surrendered, and eventually Japanese Canadians were given the choice of deportation to the land of their ancestors or resettlement somewhere else in Canada, east of the Rocky Mountains. As a result, their once cohesive community was dispersed, sent far away from the province where many of its members had been born. Even when legal restrictions against Japanese Canadians were finally lifted in 1949, few of these people were able to return to British Columbia, for they had lost their jobs, houses, stores, business establishments, cars, fishing boats, and all their belongings. When the authorities transported them in trains in 1942, the evacuees had only been allowed to carry as luggage one suitcase per person. All the remaining personal property they had in Canada had been confiscated and compulsorily auctioned at bargain prices to buyers who took advantage of the situation. During their mass internment, Japanese Canadians had received about ten percent of the replacement value for their liquidated possessions. In fact, they had to start from scratch because their adverse circumstances had driven them to spend the token amounts of money they had collected from the disastrous sales.

  • 4 These watercolors are in the Osborne Collection of the Toronto Public Library. A Child in Prison C (...)
  • 5 Understandably, scholarly attention has been mostly focused on Obasan, whereas Naomi’s Road has be (...)
  • 6 According to Leonard Dinnerstein and David M. Reimers, “ironically, the very absence of overt sabo (...)

3Several decades after their ordeal, Shizuye Takashima and Joy Kogawa published books deliberately intended to make children acquainted with this painful episode of Canadian history. Takashima not only wrote the text, but also beautifully illustrated A Child in Prison Camp (1971) with her own delicate watercolors, which enhance the words of her story.4 Joy Kogawa based Naomi’s Road (1986)—her first book for children—on her widely acclaimed and award-winning novel Obasan (1981), which had come out five years earlier.5 In the 1980s, this novel became instrumental in influencing the Canadian Government’s 1988 acknowledgement of genuine regret on behalf of all Canadians for the loss of liberty and property that Japanese Canadians had suffered, in spite of the fact that they had posed no real threat to national security, for no one was charged with treason, and not a single act of sabotage or espionage was committed by any of them in Canada during the Second World War.6

  • 7 In an interview held in 1988, referring to the political effectiveness of Obasan, Kogawa remarked: (...)
  • 8 In the United States, on 19 February 1976, the thirty-fourth anniversary of President Roosevelt’s (...)
  • 9 According to Diane Speirs, director of education for the Vancouver Opera, the 45-minute performanc (...)

4Obasan achieved great ideological ascendancy and was politically effective, because it compelled many Canadians to confront a shameful chapter of their national history.7 The novel also prompted their wish to make some kind of civic reparation, which in 1988 ultimately took the form of an official apology and individual payment of $21,000 to the survivors of the internment camps.8 While Joy Kogawa was contributing to the Japanese-Canadian redress movement with a book designed for adult readers, in 1986 she published Naomi’s Road so as to reach a young audience as well. Kogawa’s desire to make children aware of the damage caused by warfare and to inform them about the dangers of racism and xenophobia has not diminished with time, for nowadays at the age of seventy she is still actively involved with her life-long enterprise. For instance, The Vancouver Sun recorded how in the summer of 2005 she spent an afternoon telling children at the Fraserview branch of the Vancouver Public Library about Naomi’s Road (Wigod A-2). In the same issue of The Vancouver Sun, the newspaper announced that the Vancouver Opera would reach the stages of school auditoriums in the province with an adapted version of Naomi’s Road from September 2005 to May 2006 (O’Brian D-7).9 If we bear in mind similar examples, it is likely that the opera version of Naomi’s Road will soon stimulate renewed interest in the book itself. It is also probable that the opera and the children’s book will intensify curiosity about Obasan, the much longer novel upon which Naomi’s Road is based. It is to be expected that the opera, the children’s book, and the novel will be considered together, and that all three will draw extensive public attention to the important topics treated in them.

  • 10 Muriel Kitagawa (1912-1974), a second-generation Canadian-born Nisei, was one of Shizuye Takashima (...)

5The comparison between Naomi’s Road and Obasan reveals the main narrative strategies adopted by the author to turn her complex novel into a readable children’s book. In an interview held shortly after the publication of Naomi’s Road, Kogawa remarked that her recently printed children’s book was “basically Obasan without Aunt Emily” (Redekop 1989: 16). In Obasan, Aunt Emily—a fictional character inspired by the real journalist Muriel Kitagawa—had made a strong impression on readers because she was exceptionally courageous, self-assertive, articulate, frank, and even vociferous in her radical political activism. In this novel, the “little old grey-haired” woman was defined as “a crusader” and “a word warrior” (32), vigorously fighting for justice and boldly exposing all the wrongs that Japanese Canadians had suffered.10 It is understandable that the author preferred to omit such a tough and outspoken character when addressing her young audience with a book which is marked by an extremely restrained and understated prose. In Naomi’s Road only one of the two aunts that appear in Obasan remains, and she is precisely the one after whom Kogawa’s first novel is titled. Aunt Ayako is called Obasan by her niece and nephew, who use the Japanese word for aunt whenever they refer to the wife of Uncle Isamu, their father’s half-brother (Obasan 18 and Naomi s Road 8).

6Obasan is quiet, calm, patient, and self-effacing. She has been raised on Japanese values, preserves the customs of her native land, and lacks a command of the English language. It is Obasan who lovingly looks after Naomi and Stephen while their mother is away, visiting their ailing great-grandmother in Japan. Both in the novel and in the children’s book, Obasan is a protective figure who nurtures her nephew and niece, always trying to shield them from suffering, an attitude which induces her to keep silent about the fate of their absent mother.

  • 11 On the daughter-mother bonding in Obasan, see Lim (1990 and 1991).
  • 12 Grandma Kato minces no words in her account. Thus, she explains how her niece had “both her eye so (...)
  • 13 The description of Naomi’s mother is repulsive: “Her nose and one cheek were almost gone. Great wo (...)

7Although Naomi misses her mother in the children’s book almost as deeply as she does in the novel, the plight of the unfortunate woman as an atomic-bomb survivor in Nagasaki is not explicitly mentioned in Naomi’s Road, but only in Obasan.11 At the end of this narrative, Naomi and her brother Stephen, who are adults by this time, become acquainted with a letter, simply dated 1949, from their grandmother to their grandfather in which the old woman had described in ghastly detail the horrible effects of the A-bomb dropped on Nagasaki (Obasan 234-39). The letter, containing graphic scenes of devastation, carnage and maimed bodies, drags out into the light the hidden truth which had been lurking in the background for many years.12 According to the novel, young Naomi was only told that her mother and grandmother were safe in Tokyo, and she was encouraged to hope they would return some day (Obasan 235). The letter finally discloses how her mother had been utterly disfigured, and how she had specifically requested that Naomi and Stephen be spared this knowledge (Obasan 236).13 In the adult version of the story, learning about her mother’s fate makes Naomi grieve, but it also helps her resolve many of the internal conflicts which had been tormenting her.

8Most of these intense psychological conflicts as well as the bare truth about illness and death are avoided in the piece of juvenile fiction. For instance, in the children’s book, Naomi and Stephen are told that their father is in hospital, but no exact information about his probable illness or his death is given. The only hint about his poor health is that, when he briefly returned to visit his children, his daughter noticed that he worked more slowly and looked tired (NR 55). Then, he went back to hospital and disappeared forever, leaving them under Obasan’s care, very much like their mother had done when she set sail for Japan. In Naomi’s Road, the protagonist simply dreams about her lost mother, whom she sees inside a wild rose that suddenly bursts into flame (NR 77), but is never told that the woman was actually burnt in Nagasaki. As for her father, he appears in the same dream to hug her tightly and to repeat the last words he said to her when he departed: “God’s angels are always with you” (NR 55 and 77). Thus, it is intimated (but not stated) that Naomi becomes an orphan, a conclusion reinforced by her own identification with Little Orphan Annie (NR 40).

  • 14 In Naomi’s Road, the author rewrote this passage reducing it in length, and toning it down by avoi (...)

9When Joy Kogawa wrote the children’s book, apart from dealing with illness and death in a subdued way, she either minimized or even completely left out other troublesome aspects of her novel, so as to give a relatively sanitized version of the same story. For instance, in both books she related how Rough Lock Bill saved Naomi from drowning, but the effect of the scene is much less disquieting in Naomi’s Road (35) than in Obasan (149).14 Furthermore, when the author addressed a children’s audience, she omitted altogether the psychic damage of the sexual abuse that the little girl suffered at Old Man Gower’s hands (Obasan 61-65).

10Kogawa’s efforts to provide youngsters with a suitable account of what World War II meant for her and for her fellow Japanese Canadians led her to begin Naomi’s Road with a letter, addressed to her “Dear Children.” In this letter, she proclaims her loyalty to Canada, introduces her protagonist and first-person narrator, a “Canadian girl called Naomi Nakane,” and briefly explains how Japanese Canadians were treated in the 1940s. Kogawa clearly states that “there was a war going on” and that Canada and Japan were enemies. She emphasizes that “Japanese Canadians were treated as enemies at home” in spite of the fact that “not one Japanese Canadian was ever found to be traitor to our country.” She points out that “our cameras and cars, radios and fishing boats were taken away,” and that “after that our homes and businesses and farms were also taken and we were sent to live in camps in the mountains.” The author observes that some of the roads in the Rocky Mountains were made by the Japanese Canadians who were forced to build them, and concludes her letter remarking that the road of her title, Naomi’s Road, is of a different kind, for it is the path of her life, which all young readers are invited to walk with her for a while.

  • 15 In her overview of American children’s books on World War II, Betsy Hearne indicates that few of t (...)
  • 16 Although Mitzi is very hostile at first (NR 39-40), she and Naomi end up being “blood sisters” (NR(...)

11Throughout Naomi’s Road, Kogawa refrains both from glorifying warfare and, conversely, from presenting its most gruesome aspects to her junior audience.15 Focusing exclusively on the early years of her protagonist, Kogawa evokes the misery provoked by the military conflict while always being careful to use subdued words so as not to shock her young readers. Thus, although a happy ending is not possible, her book concludes gently and hopefully, with Naomi’s realizing that the adults speak in riddles, and revealing her determination to work out her own codes to communicate with her best friend, a white girl called Mitzi.16 The atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never mentioned in this children’s piece of fiction, but only subtly suggested by the symbolic vision of the mother in a rose which suddenly catches fire. The only real fire which materializes in this book appears when Naomi accidentally burns the lace curtains of her bedroom while playing with a box of matches (NR 6-7), a scene she recalls much later as she ponders: “But what if the whole world was on fire? How could you blow that out?” (NR 70).

  • 17 In Obasan, Aunt Emily explains in a letter addressed to Naomi’s mother that the girl took to hitti (...)

12Apart from using easily understandable literary strategies, such as this foreshadowing device, in Naomi’s Road Kogawa avoids the more complex narrative techniques of Obasan, such as the mixing of genres (letters, various memoranda, newspaper clippings, a diary, and excerpts from conference papers). The linear chronology of events is respected throughout the children’s book, in which there are no flashbacks. The first-person narrator and protagonist in Obasan is a thirty-six-year-old schoolteacher who ponders her present existence while recalling her past, whereas Naomi s Road is told from the naive or innocent-eye perspective of a little girl who spontaneously describes what she perceives around her, and candidly relates the events that are happening to her. Kogawa traces with psychological insight the special relationship that Naomi has with her Japanese doll, to which the little girl recurrently transfers her own feelings of irritation and fear. For instance, rather than admit that she is angry and that she cries because Stephen got hurt (NR 13), or because she misses her mother, she imagines it is her doll that is experiencing such frustration, and even figures out that it shouts: “War is stupid!” (NR 15). Then, Naomi pretends that her doll says: “I wish Mama was here” (NR 15). In a tantrum, Naomi hits the doll, but declines any responsibility for breaking one of its hands by asserting that the doll itself did it (NR 15).17 Later at night, she believes that the doll has woken her up because it was frightened, and finally she admits that she is afraid as well (NR 15). At the station, when “many of the children look scared,” Naomi does not confess that she is also frightened, but concedes: “my doll feels afraid” (NR 17). In chapter 15, the protagonist of the book remembers the time when she used to pretend that her Japanese doll could talk, thus indicating that she is still a girl, but no longer a very young one (NR 69).

13Naomi’s Road is similar to A Child in Prison Camp in many respects. Both are first-person narratives told by young girls in the present tense, a device which provides a more intimate approach to the audience and intensifies the communicative effects of the text. The fact that this technique does not require omniscience allows Kogawa and Takashima to focus on whatever war-related aspects are likely to attract children’s attention. Apart from briefly explaining the consequences of World War II when she starts Naomi’s Road with a prefatory letter addressed to her “Dear Children,” Joy Kogawa deliberately presents such a war not as a mere background for her story. Throughout her book she endeavors to make her young readers comprehend the harm that military struggle inflicts upon whole families, and to demonstrate that warfare matters to girls, and not only to boys. For these reasons, when Naomi openly questions her father about the real meaning of war, he explains to her that “It is the worst and saddest thing in the world. People get hurt and learn to be afraid” (NR 13). Naomi soon realizes that war is to blame for her parents’absence and for the attack Stephen suffers, in which his glasses and his beloved violin are broken by other children, thus giving readers a glimpse of how violence is not restricted to the world of adults (NR 13). The incalculable material and emotional losses arising from war are symbolized by Naomi’s loss of her favorite doll on the train during her mandatory journey east (NR 22). She notices that the walls of the dusty hut she is forced to inhabit are covered with newspapers, unlike her comfortable Vancouver home from which she was uprooted (NR 24). Moreover, she deplores having to wear ragged clothes and skirts fixed from her aunt’s old dresses, rather than “store-bought dresses like the other girls,” and is painfully aware of the fact that she and her brother are among the few children at the Granton school who are compelled to toil in the fields rather than concentrate on their homework (NR 66).

  • 18 Shizuye Takashima was called Shichan by her family and friends in real life. She gave the name of (...)
  • 19 On the disruption of family life in the case of Japanese Americans, whose circumstances were basic (...)

14The distress provoked by the armed conflict also pervades A Child in Prison Camp, where war is referred to by name from the beginning of the book. Its first sentence, dated March 1942, reads: “Japan is at war with the United States, Great Britain and all the Allied Countries, including Canada, the country of my birth” (CPC 5). The specific events which are recorded by Shichan18 prove the calamities brought about by that war, with special emphasis on the disruption of family life, for her father’s departure is followed by her brother’s relocation in a different camp, and then by the young man’s final move to Toronto, where the older sister also settles in 1945, while Shichan’s parents feel torn when they are confronted with the difficult decision of choosing between their deportation to Japan or their relocation further east within Canada.19

15Because the first-person narrator of A Child in Prison Camp is supposed to be eleven years old when she starts her account, she is able to interpret war experiences with a maturity unattainable by her younger counterpart in Naomi’s Road. For instance, both children begin by being equally excited about undertaking a train ride that they imagine as a holiday adventure. However, in order to make Shichan aware of the real situation she will have to face, the girl’s mother reminds her daughter that they are not “going on a vacation” but “being evacuated” (CPC 14). On the contrary, to protect them and prevent their suffering, Obasan tells her nephew and niece that they are going “on a holiday,” a piece of news that Naomi does not call into question, and naively repeats to her doll (NR 16). On the whole, Shichan is much more openly critical than Naomi, as she analyzes people’s attitudes and explains the possible reasons for their behaviour. For example, she is able to understand why the villagers try to take advantage of the Japanese-Canadian evacuees by charging them higher prices (CPC 19) or why her ethnic community ends up being divided by hatred (CPC 90).

  • 20 In Naomi’s Road Kogawa uses a number of Japanese words, which she defines in the text itself: nema (...)
  • 21 In her fiction, Joy Kogawa replaces Coaldale by Granton.
  • 22 Monica Sone’s war experiences in America were rather similar to the ones of Takashima and Kogawa i (...)

16Although the issues addressed throughout Naomi’s Road and A Child in Prison Camp are complex, the language used in them is easy to understand, and their plots are straightforward, adequate for their main target audiences. Whenever an unfamiliar Japanese term is employed, the authors either define it in plain words, or else they translate it into English.20 Neither book is an autobiography, in spite of their numerous autobiographical elements, and curiously enough, the two writers decided to make their main characters two years younger than the authors had been at the time when they were displaced from Vancouver and confined in relocation camps, Takashima in New Denver (in the Kootenay Mountains, near the Alberta and British Columbia border), and Kogawa first in Slocan (B.C.), and after 1945 in Coaldale (Alberta).21 In a Personal Note which Takashima added at the end of her volume, she observed that she was really two years older than she had depicted herself. As for Kogawa, she pointed out that her protagonist was approaching her sixth birthday when the girl herself began to tell her story (NR 8). For the sake of keeping the plot as simple as possible and in order to reduce the number of characters, Takashima determined that A Child in Prison Camp would feature only one brother instead of the four which the author actually had. Unlike other authors who recorded the same events in their autobiographies, as the Japanese American Monica Sone did in Nisei Daughter, Shizuye Takashima and Joy Kogawa took a good number of liberties in their fictionalized autobiographies or autobiographical fictions.22

  • 23 Yuki, Shichan’s sister, observes: “The West Coast people never liked the orientals. ‘The Yellow Pe (...)
  • 24 For instance, although she is in great need herself, Obasan offers a towel, apples and oranges to (...)
  • 25 The issue of nudity in the bathtub, which is addressed both in A Child in Prison Camp (60) and in (...)

17Regarding characterization, Takashima and Kogawa aspired to avoid stereotyping and strove to convincingly portray credible characters, with rich inner lives. Since their protagonists were victims of racial animosity and ethnic violence, it is relevant that both books address such issues, rather than try to obliterate the differences that aroused hostility. Shichan’s and Naomi’s experiences typify how racial discrimination may be lived through at a time of war, for both girls are aware of the implications of their belonging to a visible minority, and come to the conclusion that their community has become the target of abuse partly because of racial hatred. Takashima and Kogawa openly deal with the myth of The Yellow Peril and are eager to give a faithful rendering of the Japanese values and customs which shape Japanese Canadian cultural identify.23 Consequently, they offer realistic depictions of the distinctive family relationships and display the strong sense of community which Japanese Canadians exemplify.24 The bathhouse scenes in the two children’s books are illustrative in this respect, for girls and women of all ages are shown chatting in the steamy room, soaking together in hot water, and washing themselves and each other.25

18Shichan and Naomi are characterized as being extremely perceptive. Apart from meticulously recording everything they see and hear, they also set down the peculiarities they apprehend with their other senses, besides vision and hearing. They are very visually oriented, and enjoy the beauty of the landscape, which they describe in poetic terms, paying particular attention to colors. This tendency is exemplified in the following description of a sunset:

The happy sun is slowly sinking.
The mountains turn bright purple; they seem on fire.
The half-hidden orange fire lingers, sorry to leave this lovely dance.
Then far on the other side of this splendid sky
I see the pale, pale moon watching, silvery and ghostly. (CPC 59)

19Years later, in 1964, when the Canadian Prime Minister acknowledges that “the action of the Canadian Government of the day ... was a black mark against Canada’s traditional fairness and devotion to the principles of human rights,” Shichan looks up, and when she sees the vast orange sky, she remembers how often she stood outside her house in the new Denver camp and watched the sunset (CPC 96). Edward C. Reilly highlights how “Takashima believed that the natural beauty surrounding the relocation camp helped her transcend the harsh realities of life.” Indeed, Takashima’s protagonist attests that being allured by the sight of the sky, mountains, trees, lakes, and rivers provides her with strength to survive in the worst material circumstances. Her older sister, Yuki, shares her feelings, because when she is watching how “the last rays of the dark gold-red sun begin to fade,” she exclaims: “Yes, we may not have luxury, but sure we have nature” (CPC 66).

20Regarding tactile sense, Shichan feels the cold wind against her face (CPC 28) and admires her first snow, touching it carefully and discovering how it melts, leaving a tiny, clear drop of water on the palm of her hand (CPC 29). Naomi observes how soft Obasan’s velvet dressing gown is and how fluffy her quilt is as well (NR 11). The girl also feels the sand under her cheek (NR 35), and wishes she could hold some bunnies that “look as fluffy and soft as cotton wool” (NR 37).

21The sensations of taste also play an important role in the daily lives of both protagonists. Shichan often refers to the flavor of food, from rice cooked with natural fire to freshly-baked lemon pies (CPC 21 and 36), and feels exultant when gifts of soya sauce and miso paste arrive from Japan (CPC 49). Naomi feasts on the tart red strawberries and shiny gooseberries which she picks in the forest (NR 26), and notes that her lunch includes “Obasan’s onigiri rice balls with a salty plum in the middle” (NR 37).

22Concerning the response to olfactory stimuli, Shichan relishes the “fresh, lovely smell of nature” (CPC 17), acknowledges “the smell of fresh-cut trees burning” (CPC 20), and complains that the stink of mushrooms makes her sick (CPC 68). Naomi is also sensitive to scent and stench, the former invariably associated with her mother, and the latter with the unpleasant memories of her hard life in Granton. For instance, she notices the odor of her mother’s perfume and the “the powder she pats on her face and neck” (NR 4). When her mother leaves for good, the young girl puts a woolly flower dabbed with her mother’s favorite fragrance under her pillow so as to “still smell Mama” at bedtime ([NR 10). On the contrary, in the root cellar of Granton, all Naomi notices is that “the rotten potatoes smell horrible” (NR 64). At Vancouver station, when she boards a train which is full of strangers, she realizes that it “smells of oil and soot and orange peels” (NR 17).

23Aural aspects are equally prominent in both children’s books. For instance, the first chapter of Naomi’s Road begins with the sound of the grandfather clock in the hall announcing that it’s almost time to go to bed: “Bong, bong, bong...” (1). Naomi hears how the water spills on the hot stove: “szt szt” (NR 26). She also notices the scrape-scrape noise that Obasan’s butter knife makes on her toast (NR 52). Both narrators pay particular attention to the sounds of the trains they board in order to leave Vancouver. Thus, Shichan captures the scene of her departure in aural terms: “Bang...bang...psst... the old train gurgles” (CPC 15). Although Naomi travels eastwards in the same kind of train, she renders the sounds in a different manner: “Hoo-oot! goes the train” (NR 62), and after they enter a high tunnel, she hears: “Clackity clack, clackity clack, clackity clack” (NR 62).

24Music is the main source of auditory pleasure in both children’s books. Shichan is delighted to listen to “the old song sounds full of joy” that all the members of her family happily sing in unison (CPC 15). She comments on the creativity of her ethnic group, and specifically dwells on their fondness for concerts and celebrations involving singing (CPC 58). Shichan’s account of the Cibon festival closes with a scene that shows how the combination of what she sees and what she hears leads her to achieve a state of ecstasy: “The music reaches us, touches the moon” (CPC 59).

25In the case of Naomi’s Road, the protagonist explains in detail how music sustains Stephen psychologically as it becomes the centre of his whole life. Since the family piano has been left behind in Vancouver, the boy practices on a folding cardboard one he pretends is real (NR 25-6). His longing to play is so great that at night he climbs into the United Church of Granton in order to perform on a piano he covers with a blanket to avoid being caught (NR 68). During his exile, his violin is broken by other children (NR 13), and eventually his flute is also ruined, for the dry air of Alberta makes it crack beyond repair (NR 67). Having to face the loss of his three precious musical instruments, the boy has recourse to whistling, and hopes that one day he will have a piano, a violin, another flute, and even a trumpet (68).

  • 26 The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is told in Obasan (126).
  • 27 In an interview, Kogawa remarked that her mother was a good story teller and had told her many Jap (...)

26In spite of the fact that the children in both books tend to apprehend the world around them acutely through their sensorial perceptions, there are moments when they feel inclined to evade the harsh realities of wartime by envisaging a better world to live in. When Naomi is in Slocan, she visualizes being back in her Vancouver home (NR 26), and when she moves to Granton, she mentally returns to the Slocan mountains (NR 69). Shichan recurs to imagining that she has just arrived “from China, with camels, bells and all” (CPC 27), daydreaming about Japan (CPC 37), and traveling in her mind to the exotic countries she learns about when she reads the adventures of Marco Polo (CPC 30). Naomi, being a few years younger than Shichan, develops her imaginative capacity by turning to folk tales, which help her on the one hand to escape psychically to a fantastic realm, and on the other to grasp and render her difficult material existence in more tolerable terms. For instance, having left her pleasant Vancouver home for good, she reveals her personal impression of the gray and dusty little house she will be forced to inhabit by wondering if it may be the dwelling of the three bears, hence alluding to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (NR 24). Naomi also observes that her uncle’s “arms are as wide as Papa Bear’s” (NR 28). When she sees a pretty girl with light golden hair, Naomi compares her with Goldilocks, thus referring to the same tale again (NR 37).26 But the story which remains her favorite is the Japanese fable that her mother used to tell her, the one of the boy hidden in the middle of a giant peach, Momotaro, whose mythical figure represents an idyllic childhood in Naomi’s eyes (NR 4-5).27

27In A Child in Prison Camp and Naomi’s Road, Takashima and Kogawa have coincided in producing highly poetic pieces of autobiographical fiction which explore the same individual and collective war trauma with historical precision. They have managed to convey accurate representations of their own frightful childhood experiences while providing insight into the strategies that children may adopt to cope with any kind of war trauma. The main sources of comfort for their protagonists are the love which unites their family members and the moral support they receive not only within the Japanese Canadian community, but also from some sympathetic individuals of non-Japanese ancestry, such as the Catholic nuns in A Child in Prison Camp (63-64, 71 and 91), and both the Indian Rough Lock Bill (31-35) and gold-haired Mitzi in Naomi’s Road (44-49, 72-75 and 82). Additionally, the aesthetic appreciation of nature and the tendency to fantasize—together with the taste for music—give constant relief in the face of difficulty to the two girl narrators, often overwhelmed by feelings of anguish and confusion. In a time of great sorrow, they find delight in the spectacular scenery of the Rocky Mountains, evade reality through imaginary voyages to their former Vancouver homes or to exotic countries, and discover that musical enjoyment grants them the peace of mind they desperately need in a world shattered by violence.

Bibliographie

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

ADACHI Ken, The Enemy That Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians, Toronto, McClelland, 1976.

BROADFOOT Barry, Years of Sorrow, Years of Shame. The Story of Japanese Canadians in World War II, Toronto, Doubleday, 1977.

BROWN Judy. “‘How the World Bums’: Adults Writing War for Children”, Canadian Literature 179 (Winter 2003), 39-54.

DANIELS Roger, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850, Seattle, U of Washington P, 1988.

DELBAERE Jeanne, “Joy Kogawa Interviewed by Jeanne Delbaere”, Kunapipi 16.1 (1994), 461-64.

DINNERSTEIN Leonard and REIMERS David M., Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration and Assimilation, New York, New York UP, 1977.

GIBERT Teresa, “From Obasan to Itsuka: The Power of Silence in Joy Kogawa’s Rewriting of History”, Estudios de Filología Inglesa. Homenaje a Jack White, Madrid: Editorial Complutense, 2000, 65-78.

HEARNE Betsy, “U. S. Children’s Books on World War II—An Overview and Representative Bibliography”, Bookbird 3 (1980), 23-25.

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———, Naomi’s Road, Toronto, Stoddart, (1986) 1995.

KOH Karlyn, “The Heart-of-the-matter Questions”, [Interview with Joy Kogawa] The Other Woman: Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature, ed. Makeda Silvera, Toronto, Sister Vision, 1995, 19-41.

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———, “Asian American Daughters Rewriting Asian Maternal Texts”, Asian Americans: Comparative and Global Perspectives, ed. Shirley Hune et al. Pullman, Washington State UP, 1991, 239-48.

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REDEKOP Magdalene, “The Literary Politics of the Victim”, [Interview with Joy Kogawa] Canadian Forum (November 1989), 14-7.

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<http://www.enotes.com/child-prison-qn/49130>.

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TAKEZAWA Yasuko I., Breaking the Silence: Redress and Japanese American Ethnicity, Ithaca, Cornell UP, 1995.

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WONG Sau-ling Cynthia, Reading Asian American Literature, Princeton, Princeton UP, 1993.

Notes

1 For a more detailed analysis of how Joy Kogawa rewrote historical events in her fiction, see Gibert (2000).

2 For historical accounts of the Japanese Canadian experience, see Adachi, Broadfoot, Daniels, Dinnerstein and Reimers, LaViolette, Miki and Kobayashi, Omatsu, Sunahara, Takata, Takezawa, and Ward.

3 The day before Shizuye Takashima passed away, she was visited by Joy Kogawa at the Vancouver General Hospital. Joy Kogawa reported that Mrs Takashima was “very peaceful” (Martin S-7). In fact, long before those final moments of her life, it was clearly established that she had lost all the bitterness that she once had.
In an interview held at a Commonwealth Literature Conference held in Aachen (Germany) in 1988, Janice Williamson asked Joy Kogawa “How does Obasan translate or transform the trauma of your displacement as a child during the internment of Japanese Canadians?” And the author replied: “It’s all connected. Of course it relates to the way my family was traumatized and how my mother’s and father’s realities broke down for them. It is certainly interwoven with the history of racism, but it goes beyond than that” (Williamson 156).

4 These watercolors are in the Osborne Collection of the Toronto Public Library. A Child in Prison Camp received an award by the Canadian Library Association for Children as the best illustrated book of the year. Takashima’s paintings have been included in the collections of the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, and have also been exhibited in prestigious galleries in Canada and the United States. For twenty-two years she taught watercolor classes at the Ontario College of Fine Arts, Toronto.

5 Understandably, scholarly attention has been mostly focused on Obasan, whereas Naomi’s Road has been rather neglected, except for Judy Brown’s overview of children’s books about war (2003).

6 According to Leonard Dinnerstein and David M. Reimers, “ironically, the very absence of overt sabotage was held against them” (79).

7 In an interview held in 1988, referring to the political effectiveness of Obasan, Kogawa remarked: “I was therefore not conscious of any political act. The political reality was the background rather than the foreground of my book” (Delbaere 461). In another interview, Kogawa stated: “I don’t know where the dividing line is for me in art and politics, in my thoughts and in my life, in what I think, do or feel.” (Koh 34-5).

8 In the United States, on 19 February 1976, the thirty-fourth anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, Gerald R. Ford issued Presidential Proclamation 4417 which apologized for the relocation and revoked the wartime document (Daniels 1988: 331). Finally, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill providing for an apology and a payment of $ 20,000 to each of the survivors of the internment camps (Takaki 1993: 401).

9 According to Diane Speirs, director of education for the Vancouver Opera, the 45-minute performance, sung by four singers and accompanied by piano, provides an accessible approach to themes that are already part of the curriculum and to issues that still resonate with today’s children in Canada.

10 Muriel Kitagawa (1912-1974), a second-generation Canadian-born Nisei, was one of Shizuye Takashima’s cousins. Joy Kogawa read Muriel Kitagawa’s writings in the Public Archives of Ottawa before they were edited by Roy Miki and posthumously published in a collection entitled This Is My Own (1985).

11 On the daughter-mother bonding in Obasan, see Lim (1990 and 1991).

12 Grandma Kato minces no words in her account. Thus, she explains how her niece had “both her eye sockets blown out” (Obasan 237). The portrayal of the victims of the nuclear holocaust includes details about how “Skin hung from their bodies like tattered rags” (238) and “One man held his bowels in with the stump of one hand” (238). Some of the sentences used by the old lady to depict the nightmarish scene are particularly macabre: “The water, red with blood, was a raft of corpses” (238).

13 The description of Naomi’s mother is repulsive: “Her nose and one cheek were almost gone. Great wounds and pustules covered her entire face and body. She was completely bald. She sat in a cloud of flies and maggots wriggled among her wounds” (Obasan 239).

14 In Naomi’s Road, the author rewrote this passage reducing it in length, and toning it down by avoiding references to mucus, phlegm, “the spasms of shivering,” and other disagreeable details that appear in the novel.

15 In her overview of American children’s books on World War II, Betsy Hearne indicates that few of them glorify that military confrontation, and argues how important it is that this kind of literature emphasizes the human cost of war.

16 Although Mitzi is very hostile at first (NR 39-40), she and Naomi end up being “blood sisters” (NR 39-40).

17 In Obasan, Aunt Emily explains in a letter addressed to Naomi’s mother that the girl took to hitting the Japanese doll (81). This episode of the novel has been interpreted as a proof of Naomi’s racial shame (Wong 139).

18 Shizuye Takashima was called Shichan by her family and friends in real life. She gave the name of Yuki to the fictional character based on her older sister Mary.

19 On the disruption of family life in the case of Japanese Americans, whose circumstances were basically similar to those of Japanese Canadians, see Kim (1982: 133-37).

20 In Naomi’s Road Kogawa uses a number of Japanese words, which she defines in the text itself: nemaki, a nightie (1), yasashi, soft and tender, an adjective Naomi uses to qualify her mother’s voice (3 and 7), and onigiri, that is, rice balls with a salty plum in the middle (8 and 37). In her children’s book, the author simply translates nemaki as nightie, whereas in Obasan she explains the meaning of this word in detail (49). In A Child in Prison Camp the protagonist notes that yuki means snow in Japanese (34).

21 In her fiction, Joy Kogawa replaces Coaldale by Granton.

22 Monica Sone’s war experiences in America were rather similar to the ones of Takashima and Kogawa in Canada, for she and her family were uprooted from Seattle, to be first confined in some quickly-adapted horse stables at the fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington, and later interned in a camp at Minidoka, Idaho. For most of her biographical account Monica Sone is called Kazuko, since this was her name in childhood (Nisei Daughter xii).

23 Yuki, Shichan’s sister, observes: “The West Coast people never liked the orientals. ‘The Yellow Peril’ is what they call us” (CPC 46). “The Yellow Peril” is not explicitly referred to in Naomi’s Road, but in her novel Kogawa mentions a children’s game called The Yellow Peril, consisting of fifty small yellow pawns and three big blue checker kings. It is made in Canada and is advertised over a map of Japan with the following words: “The game that shows how a few brave defenders can withstand a very great number of enemies” (Obasan 152).

24 For instance, although she is in great need herself, Obasan offers a towel, apples and oranges to a young mother she meets on the train while being evacuated (NR 17). Later on, in spite of inhabiting a very small hut, Obasan welcomes and takes care of a sick woman until she is able to move back to her daughter’s (NR 25).

25 The issue of nudity in the bathtub, which is addressed both in A Child in Prison Camp (60) and in Obasan (48), is not explicitly mentioned in the bathhouse scene of Naomi’s Road (36).

26 The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is told in Obasan (126).

27 In an interview, Kogawa remarked that her mother was a good story teller and had told her many Japanese folk tales (Koh 20).

Auteur

UNED (Spain)
Is Professor of English at the Spanish National University of Distance Education (UNED) in Madrid, Spain, where she is Head of the Department of Foreign Languages and teaches American and Canadian literature. She is the author of American Literature to 1900 (Madrid: CERA, 2001), and Literatura Canadiense en Lengua Inglesa (Madrid: UNED, 2004). Prof. Gibert has contributed essays to the collections Τ S. Eliot at the Turn of the Century (Lund: Lund UP, 1994), TS. Eliot and Our Turning World (London: MacMillan, 2001), and DA: Datta: Teaching The Waste Land (Hyderabad: CIEFL, 2001). Her publications on Canadian literature include “Unity in Diversity: Coming to Terms with a Plural National Identity in Canadian Literature” (1996), “Multiculturalism Revisited: Canadian Literary Deconstructions” (1999), “From Obasan to Itsuka: The Power of Silence in Joy Kogawa’s Rewriting of History” (2000), “Narrative Strategies in Thomas King’s Short Stories” (2001), and “The Aesthetics of Ageing in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction” (2005).

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2007

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