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January 16, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

OBASAN by Joy Kogawa (Anchor: $9; 300 pp.) and ITSUKA by Joy Kogawa (Anchor: $9; 334 pp.). Kogawa's semi-autobiographical novels trace the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II and their subsequent struggle for redress. "Obasan" (a respectful term for aunt), introduces the reader to Naomi Nakane and her prosperous family. Forced to leave their home in Vancouver, the Nakanes are sent to a series of inland camps and abandoned villages. Their only crime is their Asian ancestry, "the hair shirt of ethnicity." Left in the care of her aged aunt, Naomi witnesses the painful disintegration of the people she loves. "Itsuka" ("Someday") traces the gradual return to a semblance of normal life after the War. Kogawa shows the reader the frustration of the Nakanes with Caucasians who see only skin color and refuse to distinguish soldiers of the Imperial Army from fellow-citizens of Japanese descent. In eloquent, understated prose, she depicts the long battle for vindication, despite internecine quarrels and cultural biases.

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