Magazine article Anglican Journal

Author (Joy Kogawa) on Journey of Self-Discovery

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Author (Joy Kogawa) on Journey of Self-Discovery

Article excerpt

EVERY BOOK I've written has changed me," says poet and novelist Joy Kogawa. "The journey of the pen is a transforming one because when you use the pen as a pick axe to delve as deeply as you can, it will bring up the most amazing jewels, not only of memory but of insight and understanding, and it will transform you."

A Canadian Anglican, Ms. Kogawa is best known for her first novel, Obasan, which tells, through the eyes of a child, the shameful story of the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Published in 1981, Obasan is considered by many to have been a catalyst for the eventual redress in 1988 of the wrongs done to Japanese Canadians.

"Betrayal is part of the human story," she says. "We take a group of neighbors and demonize them. During the Second World War, we Japanese Canadians were the demonized people of the day. Our entire community was uprooted and relegated to the cesspool. The racism I imbibed as a child was profound. For years, I was proud to be `the only Jap in town.' It was an invisible racism, my self-perception was of unworthiness, inferiority, ugliness. The watchword when I was growing up was assimilation. We were quite successful at getting lost."

Ms. Kogawa, 63, says Obasan is "strongly autobiographical. Like Naomi, I became a person who would not speak, would not ask a question, did not expect to be heard." Some of the silence reflected her Asian culture. "I have a great deal of respect for cultures of silence. My first language was silence; my second was speech. I understand the language of silence; yet I need a lot of communication."

But while the story of Japanese-Canadian internment is heart-wrenching, Ms. Kogawa believes, "You can't compare the events of the European Holocaust with what happened in North America." She would, though, compare the Holocaust with the atomic bombings. …

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