Asahi Evening News

Original review of the 1957 publication of No-No Boy

Asahi Evening News
June 12, 1957


No-No Boy
by John Okada. 
Charles E. Tuttle Col, Y540 or $1.50 in the Far East, $1.95 in the U.S.

From a purely literary viewpoint, a way of writing which is brutal even when unnecessary is perhaps far from being satisfactory. Its essential merit lies in the theme and in the attempt by the writer to describe psychological and social difficulties, which is worth noting.

The hero is a “no-no boy,” i.e. an American whose parents are Japanese and who refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army in World War II unless his parents were reunited in the same camp (In the panic which followed Pearl Harbor, all people of Japanese descent on the West Coast were indiscriminately put into “relocation camps.” Many young nisei were later drafted for duty as volunteers, quite a few serving with a unit which covered itself with glory on the European front.

The novel begins when the hero, Ichiro, who had a complete American education is released from jail after the end of the war and finds himself in a confused situation, living with an ultra-nationalistic mother who believes that Japan is victorious and all U.S. news to the contrary is a lot of lies, including letters from her own destitute family in occupied Japan; an indulgent father who takes to drink as a last resort; a younger brother who hates him and people and ex-friends who despise him, with a few exceptions, among the American-Japanese, because he is a “no-no boy”.

Amid this peculiar after-war climate, Ichiro is torn in a conflict where it is difficult to separate psychological from real elements; he does not even accept sympathies offered to him.

The novel ends without conclusion, except a faint note of hope without any precision. In a way, this work could be considered more a document than a novel.

Incidentally, it is not an autobiography: John Okada volunteered during the war. But there is no doubt that he was genuinely concerned with the problem studied in his first novel.

To judge him on purely literary ground, one will have to visit his second opus. While it is not certain that all Americans were not aware of the question which is the subject of “no-no boy,” it would be difficult to understand it, socially and psychologically, out of its national background.

For many European readers, for instance, the hero of the novel would have had valid reasons for refusing to be drafted with is parents in camp and he would not have been psychologically confused. This novel, by its theme, is thus a purely American one, and more especially a Japanese-American one. It is especially interesting from this angle.

— A. Smoular