| Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Ruth Ohi,
Fitshenry & Whiteside, 2005 (original published by Oxford University Press, 1986).
As I revisited Joy Kogawa's contribution to Too Young to Fight: Memories from our Youth During World War II, I realized just how closely Naomi's Road mirrors her experiences as a young child during the time when she and her family were stripped of their home and possessions in Vancouver and sent to the internment camp for Japanese Canadians at Slocan. First published in 1986, Joy Kogawa has now published a new edition of this children's classic based on the expanded version of the story published in Japan.
As the story begins we see Naomi and her family going about their everyday lives in their family home in Vancouver. Life is pleasant and many members of Naomi's extended family are close by. Due to an ill great-grandmother, Naomi's mother and grandmother have to make a journey to Japan and her aunt comes to look after Naomi and her brother stephen. It is just shortly after this that the japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and things change drastically for the Japanese-Canadians. Even though they are for the most part Canadian citizens, they are put under suspicion by the Canadian government and almost without warning they are taken away from their homes with only a minimum of possessions and are carried away to internment camps where they're kept until the end of the war. naomi, her brother and her aunt are taken to Slocan. Eventually their uncle arrives to stay with them. They do have one brief visit from their ailing father but their family is never reunited as after the war Naomi, her brother and her aunt are sent to live in a farm in Alberta. While Kogawa and her brother were never actually separated from their parents, much of the rest of the story is auto-biographical.
Through the description of the day-to-day activities at the camp, Kogawa provides us with understanding of what life was like for those people who were prisoners not because of anything they had done but because of who they were. Told from a child's point of view, without any accusation or blame, this book is avery powerful statement on the horrors of war which affected people far from the battlegrounds and the racial discrimination which was prevalent at the time. Ruth Ohi's black and white sketches add to the somber yet gentle tone of the book.
This is a book which should be shared with young readers so that they can understand that actions such as these must never happen again in a country where multiculturalism and peace are two of our main idioms. This books will be another great addition to historical fiction collections and a supplement to social studies programs at the elementary level.
The Vancouver Opera produced a musical version of Naomi's Road which toured in 2005.
Thematic Links: World War II; Japanese Internment; Japanese-Canadians.
Vol. 10, number 5
E - Excellent, enduring, everyone should see it!
G - Good, even great at times, generally useful!
A - Average, all right, has its applications.
P - Problematic, puzzling, poorly presented.