John Okada’s Raw Confrontation of a Reality Was Ahead of Its Time

Alan Suemori
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

John Okada wrote only one novel in his lifetime, but that one book was so original, alive and breathtaking that its impact is still being felt among Asian American writers, artists and filmmakers today.

Published in 1957 by Charles Tuttle of Tökyö, “No-No Boy” went beyond easy stereotypes to present a fractured world that was nuanced, multilayered and heartbreakingly human. What heretofore passed for Asian American literature was largely limited to vanilla pap that only reinforced the misconception and misunderstanding of an entire race. “No-No Boy” left little of the previous literary niceties standing. After Okada, every Asian American book, short story or play eventually had to pay homage to his brittle realism or appear childishly simpleminded in comparison.

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