ITSUKA by Joy Kogawa


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 From Japanese-Canadian author Kogawa, a sequel to Obasan (1982) that--despite admirable intentions--reads more like a partisan political history than a novel. Continuing the story of her Japanese-Canadian family's deportation from their home in Vancouver at the beginning of WW II, Naomi recalls how her idyllic childhood on the West Coast suddenly ended, and how she and older brother Stephen found themselves living with their uncle and aunt (Obasan) in a remote prairie town. A place of few options and even less tolerance, the town was dominated by fundamentalists who preached hellfire and damnation and thought dancing a sin. Musically gifted Stephen finally left for Toronto, but Naomi, withdrawn and fearful of provoking local bigots, remained behind to become a schoolteacher and help her relatives. She also grieved for her mother, who went to Japan in the middle of the war and never returned, an apparent radiation victim--and this is to be expected in this very politically correct novel--of the bombing of Nagasaki. When her beloved uncle and Obasan die, Naomi is persuaded by feisty activist Aunt Em to move to Toronto. There, she works not only on the magazine that Em publishes for Japanese-Canadians, but also on Em's campaign to win reparations from the Canadian government for the losses the community suffered during the war. Though the cause is just, this long battle--exhaustively chronicled in every tedious detail--is relieved only slightly by Naomi's sluggish and preternaturally tepid romance with Cedric, an Episcopalian priest and fellow activist. Justice is finally done--the government will pay--but the victory has all the punch of reading Robert's parliamentary rules at a meeting of the local school board. Dull and disappointing: a novel that promises much--but delivers a great deal less.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1994
ISBN: 0-385-46885-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1993