Joy Kogawa is a Canadian poet, novelist and children's author. She is perhaps best known for her novel Obasan, which won Books in Canada's First Novel Award and the Canadian Authors Association's Book of the Year Award. This novel, and her subsequent ones, are not strictly biographical, but are very much informed by her life experiences.

Kogawa was born in Vancouver in 1935; she is a nisei, or second-generation Japanese Canadian. During World War II, Kogawa and her family had their property seized and were interned as enemies of the state by the Canadian government. The good yam has some pertinent information on this at Japanese Canadian Internment in World War II, which you should visit.

Kogawa's novels, such as Obasan, Itsuka, and The Rain Ascends, are lyrical yet accessible and are definitely worth reading for their own sake. They are also notable for having done much to publicize this shameful and embarrassing episode in Canadian history. Besides writing these beautiful books, Kogawa has been active in the movement to gain redress from the Canadian government for the losses of property and livelihood suffered by Japanese-Canadians as a result of the internment. You can find other information about Kogawa at

"There is a silence that cannot speak.

There is a silence that will not speak.

Beneath the grass the speaking dreams and beneath the dreams a sensate sea. The speech that frees comes forth from that amniotic deep. To attend its voice, I can hear it say, is to embrace its absence. But I fail the task. The word is stone.

I admit it.

I hate the stillness. I hate the stone. I hate the sealed vault with its cold icon. I hate the staring into the night. The questions thinning into space. The sky swallowing the echoes.

Unless the stone bursts with telling, unless the sea flowers with speech, there is in my life no living word. The sound I hear is only sound. White sound. Words, when the fall, are pock marks on the earth. They are hailstones seeking an underground stream.

If I could follow the stream down and down to the hidden voice, would I come at last to the freeing word? I ask the night sky but the silence is steadfast. There is no reply.

-Joy Kogawa, Obasan

We had to read Obasan in grade twelve English. I remember thinking it was a little boring, but more than that, feeling ashamed to be Canadian. It's always upsetting to find out your country isn't as glorious and innocent as you always thought it was.

The above passage is from the beginning of the novel. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. I have it posted on my bedroom wall. It speaks to me, even when nothing else does.

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