As an adult, Naomi faces some of the same stonewalling that made her childhood so perplexing. When she asks Aunt Emily about her mother, for example, she gets little more than a pained stare and a cryptic remark before Emily changes the subject. While Naomi does not react to this kind of evasion in a direct way, she is clearly frustrated with her aunt. In part, her irritation stems from the fact that Emily is more concerned with the broad issues than with specific people—and in Naomi’s view, a bunch of people pecking away at outraged letters will have little to no effect on anyone. She cares about her family members, not about the issues.
In Chapter 29, one of the most arresting in the novel, Naomi gives full vent to her fury. If remembering her time in Slocan was bearable, even sometimes enjoyable, remembering her days on the beet farm is incredibly painful. She lists the hardships she suffered in an anguished torrent, interweaving them with her present-day appeals to Aunt Emily. Naomi is furious at the government and at the cruelty of people, yes, but she is also angry with her aunt for failing to understand the pain and, ultimately, the uselessness of reviewing the past. Reliving what happened won’t give Obasan the youth stolen from her, or bring Uncle back to life. And in Naomi’s view, it won’t prevent future atrocities. As she says, addressing Aunt Emily, “Greed, selfishness, and hatred remain as constant as the human condition, do they not? Or are you thinking that through lobbying and legislation, speechmaking and storytelling, we can extricate ourselves from our foolish ways?” In this impassioned, vivid, cynical, and compelling chapter, Naomi heaps scorn on the idea that the efforts of energetic optimists will enable victims to make peace with their pasts, or stop future disasters from occurring.