Study Guide

Obasan Genre

By Joy Kogawa


Autobiography, Coming-of-Age, Historical Fiction

Autobiography and Coming of Age

You got us. This is not a story about Joy Kogawa's life. But does that mean that it's not an autobiography? Of course not.

There are lots of types of autobiographies, and one is the semiautobiographical novel. True, Kogawa never lived in Granton, and she's a poet, not a schoolteacher. But she is Japanese-Canadian, and she did live in a settlement in Slocan. So this book is semiautobiographical because it draws on her experiences while also creating a totally new fictional story.

Funnily enough, Obasan is an autobiography for one person: Naomi Nakane. Obasan is her life story, and the tale of her coming-of-age. We follow her from a confused and silent little girl in Vancouver, to imaginative kid in Slocan, and finally to the sarcastic adult she grows to be.

Historical Fiction

This book is almost like a history lesson. Well, if history were seen through the eyes of a little girl instead of (yawn) generals and senators and royalty. The plot of the novel closely follows the historical events in Canada during World War II.

While history is not always the main part of most historical fiction novels, the whole point of Obasan is to explore this often-ignored part of history. This book will teach you a thing or two about the Japanese-Canadian internment. You can call Joy Kogawa sensei (for more on the nuanced meaning of sensei, check out our character analysis on Nakayama-sensei).