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Obasan

Joy Kogawa

Chapters 35–39

Chapters 31–34

Chapters 35–39, page 2

page 1 of 3

Summary: Chapter 35

Naomi dreams of her mother doing a death dance with a rose in her mouth. The rose is connected to Obasan’s twine, which is connected to Aunt Emily’s package. A figure Naomi calls the Grand Inquisitor descends and begins opening her eyes and her mother’s mouth. Naomi wakes. She thinks that to understand her mother, the Grand Inquisitor has to listen to her silence. She thinks that the rose stands for her mother’s story. She decides to stop her inquisition, her search for the truth. Obasan wakes and begins reading the papers from Aunt Emily’s cardboard folder.

Summary: Chapter 36

As Naomi does the dishes, Nakayama-sensei, Aunt Emily, and Stephen arrive. Naomi is surprised by the gray in her brother’s hair. He seems uncomfortable. Nakayama-sensei says a prayer over the tea and Uncle’s bread. Then he looks at the letters. Aunt Emily says she wanted to tell the children a long time ago. Nakayama-sensei reads the letters aloud. They are from Grandma Kato to Grandpa Kato.

Summary: Chapter 37

Naomi mentions that in high school, she learned that her mother’s grave had been found. The first letter from Grandma Kato is brief. The second says that Grandma Kato and Naomi’s mother decided keeping silent would help the horror abate, but it didn’t. Naomi’s mother specifically didn’t want her children to know what had happened. Grandma hoped by writing about the events to her husband, she would rid herself of some pain.

In 1945, Grandma and Naomi’s mother were in Nagasaki, helping Naomi’s cousin, Setsuko, with her new baby, Chieko, who looked just like Naomi. While they were there, many of their family members died in a bombing of Tokyo. One day, as Grandma was getting ready to make lunch, with Chieko strapped to her back, the bomb hit. Grandma was knocked unconscious. She awoke to find a scene of total devastation. The baby was unconscious, but alive. Both of Setsuko’s eyes had been blown out, and her skin came off against Grandma’s hand, but she was still alive and calling for her son, Tomio. Tomio survived unharmed. Everywhere there were people hideously maimed and dying. Grandma headed toward the house of Setsuko’s father-in-law. At a stream, exhausted, she fell asleep. When she woke, she and the baby were at the father-in-law’s house, but Tomio was gone. He was never found. One day, Grandma came across a bald woman who had lost her nose and a cheek. Maggots filled her wounds. This woman was Naomi’s mother.

Naomi’s mother recovered in a hospital. She insisted on wearing a mask after her bandages were off. At four years old, Chieko was dying of leukemia.

Nakayama-sensei says a prayer for forgiveness. Naomi asks her mother to help her listen.

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