CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005
This new edition of Naomi's Road, first published in 1986, is based on an expanded version from the author's adult book, Obasan. How fortunate that a whole new generation of young readers will learn through Naomi, the narrator of this touching story, what life was like for Japanese-Canadians during W.W.II. Kogawa's own experiences during this time lend a note of authenticity to this simple, but powerful story.
The book starts out in a engaging way, focusing on the interactions between a warm extended family. Japanese culture, traditions and vocabulary are charmingly revealed along with this family's favourite things to do, favourite times and stories. Early into the story, the symbolism of the "road" in the title and its role as a road of learning is disclosed. "We all learn what our road is someday."
Although written in a simple child-like text, the story still manages to be told in an evocative and poignant way, showcasing Naomi's sadness in missing her mother who, just as war breaks out, returns to Japan to help an ailing relative. Removed from their home, Naomi and her brother are sent to an internment camp and then to an Alberta farm. Naomi's fear and her turmoil at her family's being separated and torn apart is heartbreaking. A child's feelings of confusion regarding war and all its injustice and ramifications are done with simplicity and sensitivity.
It is through her eyes that we experience a dark moment in our country's past. But in the end, the importance of family, friendship and hope rings clear. In this delicately written and gentle story, these characters are clearly drawn, sympathetic, yet strong.
This book would be an excellent choice for reading aloud to a class to connect students to this time in our history, as difficult as it now is to see how wrongful our government's actions were. It is important for Canadian children to hear this story, especially when it is told so artfully and tactfully.
The new addition adds more insight into the Naomi's extended family, additional information of the fate of Naomi's mother, a new ending, pencil drawing by Ruth Ohi that enhance the story and an historical note, perhaps disturbing in its condemnation of Canada's actions.
Reesa Cohen is an Instructor of Children's Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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