John Okada’s 1957 novel No-No Boy, his only full-length work, was the first novel by a Japanese American to grapple with the aftermath of internment during World War II. Edited by Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, and Floyd Cheung, John Okada examines the rest of Okada’s story.
The book begins with a detailed biography of the author by Frank Abe, including his family’s stint in a Washington state internment camp, his time in the U.S. military as a Japanese translator, and his postwar balancing of writing and pay-the-bills work.
The biography takes up about a third of the book, and the narrative is supported by context-providing quotes from Okada, his family, and his friends. Other essays discuss the importance of No-No Boy, analyze the novel and Okada’s short fiction from a critical perspective, or look at the generational difference between born-in-America nisei like Okada and the earlier generation of immigrants.
Because so much of the book relies on familiarity with No-No Boy, it’s particularly helpful to include Okada’s short stories in the volume to demonstrate his writing style and sensibility. “The Silver Lunchbox” features a young boy about to win an award for perfect attendance at school, only to be waylaid in a magic-realism twist. “Without Solace” is the heartbreaking story of a father failing to process the death of his young daughter. “When in Japan” is a one-act play, a clever comedy mocking the official bureaucracy of the military-industrial complex.
These and other stories familiarize newcomers to Okada and his work, and provide those who know only No-No Boy insight into the author’s full ability. This is a strong compilation, mixing Okada’s writing with copious analysis of it, and telling a story of his life that both echoes and informs his best-known work.
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