Summary: Chapter 38

Naomi speaks to her mother as if she were there, telling her she shares her horror. She says that Obasan and Uncle granted her mother’s request for silence. She says that silence destroyed them both.

Nakayama-sensei is still praying. Naomi says she feels her mother’s presence and love.

Summary: Chapter 39

In the small hours of the morning, Obasan looks through a box of photographs. Although Obasan does not weep, Naomi knows she is grieving. She puts on Aunt Emily’s coat and drives to the coulee.

The novel ends with an excerpt from a 1946 memo written by the Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians, arguing against the deportation of Japanese Canadians.

Analysis

In a novel largely concerned with the formation and retention of family bonds, Stephen and Naomi’s relationship is remarkable for its coolness. The siblings have lost nearly everyone close to them, including their mother and father, and we might expect them to cling to each other. Yet they see each other about once a decade, and their reunions are passionless events. When Stephen arrives at Obasan’s house, for instance, he doesn’t even greet Naomi. Their remote behavior toward each other may be a casualty of their family’s total failure to communicate. For various reasons, the grownups constantly hid information from Naomi and Stephen throughout their childhoods and well into their adulthoods. This habit of obfuscation seems to have been passed on to the siblings, who never once have a conversation of real import.

In these last chapters of the novel, Naomi is still struggling with the merits of silence versus the benefits of memory. Her nightmare about her mother helps her decide, at least for a time, that silence is best. The evil figure in the dream is the Inquisitor, who brutally opens Naomi’s eyes and her mother’s mouth. He is the villain, but he is also a stand-in for Naomi. For years, she has been metaphorically attempting to force open her mother’s mouth, to wrench the story of those lost years from her absent, and now dead, parent. Over the course of the novel, she has also been forcing her own eyes open, as the Inquisitor does in the nightmare, by making herself revisit scenes from her youth. If Naomi is like the Inquisitor, and the Inquisitor is a terrifying villain, it follows that Naomi’s quest to unearth the truth is ill-advised.