Original review of the 1957 publication of No-No Boy
September 27, 1957
FROM THE FRYING PAN by Bill Hosokawa
TEST BY QUESTIONNAIRE – Today it sounds almost incredible but back in 1943 the United States government sought to determine the loyalty of Japanese Americans by having them fill out questionnaires. A year earlier the government had uprooted and evacuated some 100,000 persons indiscriminately on the grounds that it was impossible to separate the loyal ones from security risks. But sometime during the months that followed the government in its infinite wisdom decided the most feasible way to screen these people was to subject them to a personalized quiz program on paper.
Most of the questions were routine. But two aroused considerable controversy in the camps.
One was question No. 27 which asked: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States, on combat duty, wherever ordered?”
The second was No. 28: “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all atttack by foreign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?”
NO-NO – A handful of bitter young men refused to answer these questions in the affirmative. They were the No-No boys. Frustrated, angry, disillusioned, they felt a need to express their defiance. Most of the No-No Boys were not pro-Japanese. They were just anti, anti- everything. So they listened to the warped logic of the latrine lawyers, cried No-No, and went to prison.
It is against this backdrop of history that a Seattle-reared Nisei named John Okada has written a novel. The book is called “No-No Boy” (Charles E Tuttle Co., $3).
The central character is Ichiro, a No-No Boy. He has served his sentence and has returned to his native Seattle as the story opens. His frustrations, his self-recriminations, conflict with family and friends and eventual re-discovery of himself make up the story, which is written with notable skill.
Never having had occasion to talk with a No-No Boy about his experiences, I’m in no position to judge whether Ichiro’s troubles were typical. However, the people who walk and talk and live through the novel are completely genuine. Okada, who lived in Seattle himself, has characterized them with understanding and insight.
WRITER OF PROMISE – Okada as a writer is at his best, when handling dialogue, the part of the craft which many consider the most difficult. Nisei will recognize the authenticity of the idioms Okada’s characters use, as well as his descriptions of the familiar Issei and Nisei mannerisms that make them come alive. He is at his weakest when he describes action and when he has the brutish Bull screaming “Aggggghh” in agony like a comic strip character. Over all, it is a gripping story told well.
The book jacket says Okada is a graduate of the University of Washington and Columbia University, that he was evacuated to a relocation camp in Idaho, that unlike the character he has created Okada volunteered for military duty and saw action in the Pacific. He now resides in Detroit, the jacket continues, and is a technical writer-editor in private industry.
On the strength of Okada’s first novel, he would seem to be a writer of considerable promise and certainly one of the most able to rise from Nisei ranks. I hope he is working on other manuscripts. Perhaps here at last is the man who will write the Great Nisei Novel which so many have aspired to but none has accomplished.