In 1945, Obasan, Uncle, Naomi, and Stephen went to the city of Lethbridge, Alberta, and then drove to a farm in Granton. They moved their things into a one-room hut and went to sleep. By morning, dust had coated everything.
Naomi mentions a newspaper clipping from Aunt Emily’s package. The clipping describes the industry of “Jap evacuees” who worked on beet farms. Naomi says she can’t stand to remember the hardship: the flies that swarmed everywhere, their house, which was actually a chicken coop; the bedbugs; the muddy water they boiled and drank; the baths taken in the same tub; fainting in the beet fields; and being too tired to sing or talk. They stayed there for three years, until 1948, when Naomi was twelve. Not until 1949 were expelled Japanese Canadians allowed to return home.
Addressing Aunt Emily, Naomi says that the past will no doubt repeat itself in a different guise.
In Granton, they received word from Father that Grandpa Nakane had died the day before they left Slocan, and that Father himself had had an operation. In the summer, the only way Stephen and Naomi could cool off was by sitting in muddy water or in the root cellar. In school, children tormented them with racist remarks. All of the Japanese students were called by Americanized versions of their names. Stephen was allowed to play the piano at school.
The pace of the narrative picks up significantly in these chapters, and for an important reason: Naomi finds her years on the beet farm too painful to think about. Even as she writes about them, she protests that she can’t talk about them, that it will kill her. Whereas she lingered over small incidents and little details in her chapters about Slocan, she races through three years of life in Alberta in just a few pages. She also returns to her earlier technique of cutting rapidly back and forth between the present moment and past memories. This back-and-forth movement relieves the agony of staying in one place for too long. The fact that Naomi was able to linger for so long in her memories of Slocan suggests that they were relatively happy recollections.
Despite their brevity, these chapters are powerful and moving. Their spare quality is, in part, what makes them so successful. For example, the description of the family’s first night in the chicken coop that would be their house is brief and has little of the lyricism that characterizes much of Kogawa’s prose. In spite of, and because of, this spare quality, it forcefully conveys Naomi’s exhaustion, her mute acceptance of disasters she can’t control, and her full understanding of the dreadfulness of the family’s new living situation. The restraint of the prose reflects Naomi’s wariness, stunted reactions, and willingness to endure hardship without a lot of melodramatic complaining.