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Obasan

Joy Kogawa

Chapters 8–11

Chapters 5–7

Chapters 8–11, page 2

page 1 of 3

Summary: Chapter 8

Obasan saves the twine from Aunt Emily’s package, as she saves everything: string, thread, tiny amounts of leftover food. Naomi reflects that perhaps painful memories, like Obasan’s most disgusting bits of forgotten food, are horrifying only if brought out and looked at.

Obasan says, “ ‘Everyone someday dies,’ ” a sentence she has been repeating almost like a mantra. She leaves the room. Naomi realizes that the book Aunt Emily included in her package consists of letters from Emily to Naomi’s mother, whom Emily called Nesan (older sister). Obasan comes back holding a photo Naomi has seen before. It is of her mother, and herself as a toddler.

Summary: Chapter 9

Naomi vividly remembers the moment the photo was taken. A boy was staring at her and her mother as the picture was taken, and she was full of fear. Her Japanese relatives taught her that staring is rude and aggressive. Naomi remembers a man winking at her as she rode a streetcar with her mother. She thinks about taking scorching hot baths with her Grandma Kato, who used to scrub her clean with washcloths. Naomi doesn’t think it’s a good idea to dwell on her childhood home in Vancouver, but recalling Aunt Emily’s exhortations to remember the past, she forces herself to continue. She remembers the house as filled with paintings, records, musical instruments, and plants. She remembers listening to her mother, father, and brother play music, herself sitting as silent as the goldfish and the statue in the room despite her family’s attempt to draw her in. She remembers her toys and her pretty bedroom.

Summary: Chapter 10

Naomi thinks of the stories her relatives told her at bedtime when she was a child. She always asked for the tale of Momotaro. She recalls looking at the peach tree in her window while her mother told her about two old people, Grandmother and Grandfather. One day Grandmother was washing clothes when a peach (momo) floated to her down a waterfall. When Grandfather came home, she showed him the fruit. As they looked at it, a boy, Momotaro, jumped out of the peach. Eventually Momotaro had to leave, and Grandmother gave him rice balls for his trip. She and Grandfather said goodbye without sadness, so as not to weigh him down. They hoped that he would behave honorably, which is the most important thing.

Naomi thinks of the way her mother and grandmother anticipated her needs. She never cried, because they knew when she was hungry, cold, tired, or uncomfortable and solved the problem almost before she had noticed it herself. Naomi doesn’t remember ever being punished. According to Aunt Emily, she never talked or smiled, either.

Summary: Chapter 11

Naomi recalls an incident from her youth. Her parents had purchased baby chicks, and Naomi moved them from their box to the cage where a hen was already living. As she watched, the hen began attacking the chicks and pecking them to death. Naomi ran to fetch Mother, who was sitting with her friend Mrs. Sugimoto. As Mother calmly rescued the remaining chicks, Mrs. Sugimoto stared at Naomi. Then a group of loud neighborhood boys ran into the yard. Mother didn’t talk about the incident with Naomi until after everyone had left and calm was restored.

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