The Japan Times

Original review of the 1957 publication of No-No Boy

The Japan Times
May 24, 1957

NO-NO BOY, by John Okada, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1957, Y540, p. 308

Outside of the message the story carries, John Okada’s “No-No Boy” could be the first serious attempt at writing a novel by a native-born American citizen of Japanese-ancestry. As such it presages a bright, vast future in Nisei literary annals.

By no means can Okada’s novel be classed side by side with the best in literature. Its importance, however, is more historical. Being a first, the book marks a turning point in the efforts of the Nisei for expression through writing.

It could be said the Nisei have only just begun to do serious writing. Compared to the colored people in the States, another minority group, the Nisei are way behind in modes of expression, whether in literature, art, music, or the theater.

Okada’s book, his first published work of fiction, is but a transition, much like say the early novels of Sterne and Fielding. This is not to say, however, that “No-No Boy” as a novel falls far below the standard. That it should have been written at all is surprising enough. With it from almost the zero point in novel writing, the Nisei (taking them as a whole) have jumped high up with one bounce in the literary field. Using “No-No Boy” as yardstick there is every inclination to expect that the next novel by a Nisei will be even better and something great.

When it will be written, the next novel by a Nisei, cannot be told. The Nisei have come of age in America, the last war in a way being their proving ground. They now have the time and the intellect and the experiences to produce something of real literary value.

Author Okada does not preach, nor rant. He does not give us the answer. The reader is left to make his own guess…whether there is salvation for the tormented Ichiro or whether he goes there from bad to worse to tragedy.

The answer is surely to come in more novels by and about the Japanese-Americans.

The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration