The Continental Times

Original review of the 1957 publication of No-No Boy

The Continental Times
July 19, 1957

‘No-No Boy’ – A Story of Misplaced Loyalty

No-No-Boy: by John Okada, published by Charles E. Tuttle Co., of Rutland Vt., and Tokyo. 308 pages. $3 hard bound, $1.95 paper bound.

Within the past several years, we have observed the remarks of a number of Nisei, both in the U.S. and in Canada, that the publishing of a story on evacuation and its consequences, fiction or otherwise, will inevitably come about. The same people also have reminded us that such a story may never be penned by a Japanese American or a Japanese Canadian, reasoning that they were too personally attached to the drama to give it proper perspective.

One Japanese American, however, apparently placed little significance in those remarks, for he has come out with a story which evolves around one person’s psychological struggle for rehabilitation in postwar America, a situation which draws much of its foundation in environmental contingencies prior to and during the war years.

John Okada is a native of Seattle and a graduate of the University of Washington and of Columbia University. Evacuated to relocation camps in Washington and Idaho after the start of World War II, he volunteered for military service and saw duty in the Pacific. He is now a resident of Detroit.

His book, however, as its title suggests, does not deal with one who served in the armed forces. On the contrary, it is a story of one who faces much abuse at the hands of other Japanese Americans and psychological turmoil within himself because of the questionable price he placed on the value of loyalty.

“No-No Boy” in a nutshell is this: American-born Ichiro Yamada, with other Americans of Japanese ancestry, was forcibly evacuated from his home in Seattle shortly following Pearl Harbor. While spending his compulsory time in a relocation camp, he received notice from his government to serve in the armed forces of the country which so recently discarded him, together with all other Japanese Americans, as a classified citizen whose loyalty was a point of suspect.

Ichiro, according to the book, was among the minority who refused, for various reasons, to serve a term of duty in the military forces.

The author advances a series of reasons as strong moving forces underlying Ichiro’s refusal to heed the draft call. Not the least of these is the vengeful regard he has of his country and its people for the shameful treatment accorded him, his immediate family, and others of Japanese ancestry.

But Ichiro has other reasons. The author portrays him as a product of highly unusual set of circumstances. (At least this reviewer, from his experiences as a member of a similar minority, regards the situations as quite unusual). In the first instance, the domineering force in Ichiro’s family is the mother. The father, cast in a plightful light, invariably finds convenient solace in cheap liquor. Since Ichiro was old enough to understand, he was in constant contact with his mother’s fanatic creed that Japan was divinely invincible and infallible.

The book does not reveal which was the stronger force behind Ichiro’s failure to accept the draft, the government’s maltreatment of Japanese Americans or the mother’s fanatical influence. The book’s preface attempts to shed some light on the essence of citizenship by pointing out in a dramatic fashion that it is a privilege and not a gift, thus denoting the fault behind Ichiro’s attitude.

Although the author seems to have selected an unusual theme in which to portray the central figure of his story and leaves the reader with many questions unanswered, a situation which favors a dramatic approach to a realistic one, he has done commendably well in enlarging upon that theme.

As a work of fiction, the book is immensely readable, which after all is a good test of any writing.

This review must conclude on a wistful note, however. And that is, the evacuation and its aftermath, both here and in the U.S., contains material for much more extensive and analytical study for fiction or non-fiction writing. Someone perhaps will attempt to give it coverage which will be lasting.

The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration