reviewed by MC45
John Okada's first and only novel is the story of Ichiro Yamada, a "No-No Boy," who after being interned for being of Japanese descent in Amerika during World War II served two years in a Federal prison for refusing to be drafted into the u.$. army. MIM recommends this book to those who read fiction as a piece of the explanation for why MIM does not refer to people of Japanese descent in Amerika as a nation.
In MIM Theory no. 8 we discussed some of the distinctions between the oppressed nations living within u.$. borders, and those immigrant and immigrant-descended groups that have yet to form a nation distinct from their mother-country. Immigrant groups are much more likely than white Amerikans to be open to revolutionary politics as they are confronted with their own unequal conditions within u.$. borders. Okada's novel tells a piece of this story that revolves largely around the immigrant-descended youths' persynal struggles to make themselves part of Amerika.
The book begins with Ichiro's return to his home in Seattle after the war's end. He is greeted by a range of people from Japanese-descended veterans who went to war to prove their loyalty and earn a place in Amerika, to Japanese immigrants of his parents' generation who believe that Japan won the war and that young men like Ichiro have demonstrated their true loyalty to Japan, and to other No-No Boys who have found like himself that having rejected Amerikan citizenship by refusing military service, they have no place in the country where they live. The first forty pages are the strongest, and they weave a tight history of how Amerika attempted to decimate the community of Japanese and Japanese-descended people living within its borders. We appreciate this opening section as a careful exposition on one of Amerika's internal war crimes during World War II.
The rest of the book goes in some directions that MIM doesn't like as much, because it does less to clarify the distinctions between oppressors and oppressed. In much writing about the Japanese experience in Amerikan concentration camps, the Japanese are presented as having a choice: between loyalty to Amerika (in the form of an oath, renunciation of fealty to the Emperor, or military service for those who were men and young), and loyalty to Japan (which some immigrants chose, in the form of repatriation). These were lousy options from a proletarian perspective -- between the world's emerging imperialist leader, and the feudal society that sought to occupy all the oppressed nations of East Asia for its own benefit.
MIM advocates a third option for all those who are torn between two imperialist powers: choose neither and throw your weight to the side of the world's oppressed. Okada's book is compelling partly because it does little to explore the genuine internationalist option. We must face facts and see that Amerika has made integrationism look like enough of an option that many will pursue it. Even as No-No Boy has moments of recognition that Blacks occupy a semi-colonial status below that of Japanese immigrants, it holds out a vision of "race"- and border-blind society as the ideal.
MIM also advocates a future in which there are no nation, class or gender groups and therefore no group oppression. But we understand from materialist science that such a communist society will only come about through a long period of struggle, and this struggle must begin with the overthrow of imperialism. As we wrote in MIM Theory no. 8, we "seek to hasten such concerns with democracy to lead Asians toward the struggle for self-determination." Imperialism will only aid our efforts as it heightens the contradictions between Asians and Amerika.
Buy This Book
|Back to bookstore||Home page|