Saturday Review

Original review of the 1957 publication of No-No Boy

September 7, 1957

MODERN TRAGEDY: Like most first novels, John Okada’s “No-No Boy” (Tuttle; clothbound, $3; paperbound, $1.95) deals with problems of love and adjustment – to parents, friends, and society – but with unusual sociological complications. The hero, Ichiro, is a fictional example of the Americans of Japanese descent whom we herded into concentration camps “in the interests of national security.” When his draft number came up in camp, Ichiro said “No!” –unless the judge would first reunite and release his family. Two years in prison and the shock after release of coming upon many fellow “relocatees” who had done their service in the army induce feelings of guilt, in spite of a continuing sense of personal wrong. The novel takes him toward an implied adjustment to his guilt and a blessing upon the unjust society.

For a first novel, the basic situation is well conceived and handled. This is no small trick, but perhaps it has been achieved at the cost of over-simplification of the novel as a form.

“No-No Boy” is an absorbing, if often strained, melodrama based on injustice and the immemorial problem of harmonizing the guilt of a society with the lesser guilt of the individual. The modern American, of whatever descent, is truly both the hero and the villain of the piece. The heroine is “that faint and elusive insinuation of promise” which is the American’s heritage. The problem itself is tragic, and “No-No Boy” comes as close as anything in recent fiction to exploring the nature of this tragedy.


The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration