Wow. This book took an effort -- not because it dragged on or anything, but because it's one of the most intensely introspective and observant books I've ever encountered.
I can very clearly see why No-No Boy
was unpopular in the AsAm community when it was first published -- John Okada specifically and unflinchingly addresses topics that are almost invariably uncomfortable for AsAm readers (myself included) to pick through. The byproducts of the model minority myth. The generation gap. Immigrant self-preservation. Anti-black prejudice. Self-hate. The constant need to prove ourselves American and "not the enemy." Many of the things we AsAms are intimately familiar with, and yet are almost never adequately addressed in the mainstream texts and discourse of American history and race relations.
In a nutshell, no-no boy Ichiro Yamada's brooding, raging introspection rolls all of this into one tumultuous account of the fallout from the internment, at times self-hating, at other times confused, and at all times cynical in the way that only a postwar man in his twenties could be. Veteran Kenji Kanno takes over a portion of the novel as a sorrowful characterization of the lives of Nisei and the crushing disconnect between 2nd-generation AsAm children and their parents. Despite Kenji's mellow and resigned manner, both
men have visibly suffered (physically, socially, sexually, mentally) at the hands of the injustice of the internment, their identity crises, and the hatred and isolation from other Japanese American men.
Okada dissects the things AsAms felt we had to historically do and still
feel that we have to do (to ourselves, to our AsAm parents and brothers and sisters and friends, even to other PoC) in order to give up parts of our precious cultures and assimilate, even while the ugly perpetual foreigner stereotypes continue to carve and brand themselves onto our (very American) souls.
It's not a pretty picture at all, but Okada doesn't try to make it one. That's exactly what makes this novel so powerful.