Naomi (Megumi Naomi Nakane)
The narrator and main character of the novel. Naomi,
a thirty-six-year-old schoolteacher, is both tormented and fascinated
by her childhood memories. She has endured a great deal, and has
coped with her painful past primarily by forgetting it. As an adult,
she has made her own way in the world. She feels a strong attachment
to Obasan and Uncle, the people who raised her, but does not see
them very often. She is not close to her brother, Stephen, and has
no family of her own.
Uncle (Isamu/Sam Nakane)
A boatbuilder. Uncle’s given name is Isamu. He is
Grandma Nakane’s son by her first husband, Grandpa Nakane’s cousin.
Uncle is older than his brother, Naomi’s father. He marries Ayako, whom
Naomi calls Obasan (aunt
). Uncle is a quiet, kind,
and steady man. A good husband to Obasan, he is also an excellent
provider and father figure for Naomi and Stephen.
Obasan (Ayako Nakane)
Uncle’s wife. Obasan’s given name is Ayako. Like
Uncle, Obasan lost her father when she was a child. Although she
is quiet and traditional, Obasan is also a woman of steely strength.
She takes responsibility for Naomi and Stephen after they are orphaned.
fifty-six-year-old maternal aunt. Aunt Emily is unmarried and lives
in Toronto. A firebrand and lover of words, Aunt Emily couldn’t
be more different than Obasan and Naomi’s mother. She has no patience
with notions of traditional Japanese femininity. Instead, she prizes
speaking up loudly and often, and standing up for one’s rights.
It is she who nudges and prods Naomi toward a full understanding
of her personal history.
brother. Stephen is three years older than Naomi. As a child, he
reacted to the privations of World War II with quiet sullenness.
As a man, he is restless and mercurial. He is very successful and
has lived in London, New York, and Montreal. Always musical as a
child, he becomes a lauded concert pianist. Spending time with his
family makes him deeply uncomfortable, as does anything that strikes
him as “too Japanese.”
in-depth analysis of Stephen.
mother. A kind and gentle woman whose approach to parenting and
being a woman resembles Obasan’s, Mother goes to Japan to tend to
her sick mother and never returns. She is the focus of Naomi’s obsessive
love and thoughts.
Father (Tadashi/Mark Nakane)
Naomi’s father. An elegant man, Father helped Uncle
design and build boats. He is something of a dreamer. While in the
work camp, he sends Stephen letters full of musical instructions,
as if he is writing a leisurely missive from a spa. He comes and
goes in and out of Naomi’s life in a way that totally mystifies
her. She is almost never sure where he is or what he’s doing.
paternal grandfather. Grandpa Nakane was a boat builder and the
first of Naomi’s grandparents to move to Canada.
paternal grandmother and Uncle’s mother. Grandma Nakane was imprisoned
in Vancouver Hastings Park, an internment camp, during World War
maternal grandmother. Grandma Kato prizes silence far less than
her daughter. It is Grandma Kato’s letters that finally reveal the
truth about what happened to Naomi’s mother. Initially she agreed
not to speak, hoping that keeping quiet would dull the pain, but
eventually decides that only by sharing her grief will she ever
have any hope of easing it.
An Anglican minister. Nakayama-sensei happens to
move around more or less in concert with Uncle and Obasan, winding
up in Slocan with them.
elderly, ill woman with whom Naomi, Stephen, and Obasan share their
house in Slocan. Surprisingly, Nomura-obasan recovers enough to return
to her daughter’s care.
Old Man Gower
next-door neighbor in Vancouver. Old Man Gower molests Naomi on
multiple occasions. He is a manipulative and cunning man who has
the audacity to pose as a generous friend to Naomi’s father.
Rough Lock Bill
A solitary, gruff, but kind man who lives near the lake
in Slocan. Rough Lock Bill saves Naomi from drowning.
friend of Naomi’s mother. Mrs. Sugimoto is a fussy, prying woman
who falls apart when her husband is forced to move to an internment
intelligence officer for Canada in the Far East. Naomi is not related
to Dan, but calls him Uncle because he is such a close friend of
Eiko and Fumi
Emily’s friends during wartime.
of Stephen and Naomi’s classmates in Slocan. Kenji leaves Naomi
to drown in the lake. Under government orders, his family goes to
Slocan classmate of Naomi’s. Miyuki is delicate and well dressed.
high-school aged girl Naomi knows in Slocan. Sachiko cares lovingly
for her grandfather, Saito-ojisan.
grandfather. Saito-ojisan is an aged, shaky man.
of the beet farm on which Naomi’s family works. Mr. Barker is a
man of good intentions, at least when World War II is a distant
memory. However, the fact remains that he allowed his workers to
live in subhuman conditions.
Barker’s first wife. Mrs. Barker dislikes Naomi and Stephen and
doesn’t want her daughter to play with them.
Barker’s second wife. Vivian seems uncomfortable in Obasan’s house.
of the Barkers, the beet farmers Naomi’s family works for. Penny
is cruel to Stephen and Naomi.
mother’s cousin. Both Setsuko’s eyes are gouged out during the bombing,
and her skin comes off in strips.
son. Tomio survives the bombing, but wanders off and is never found.
baby. Chieko closely resembles Naomi. The last Naomi hears of her,
she is dying of leukemia.
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