TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. The Women From Hiromi Goto’s Novel Chorus of Mushrooms and Their Canadian Experience
1. THE WOMEN FROM HIROMI GOTO’S NOVEL CHORUS OF MUSHROOMS AND THEIR CANADIAN EXPERIENCE
Throughout Hiromi Goto’s novel Chorus of Mushrooms, different approaches to immigrant life in Canada are presented to the reader. While some people feel safer and happier assimilating to the Canadian culture and way of life by simultaneously giving up their own roots, others are unable to lead a normal life without an attachment to these roots.
This essay will analyse three Japanese Canadian women from one family and their experiences in Canada. They are from different generations and each one of them has her own way of dealing with this topic, and each one of them has a different opinion concerning the question what it takes to set new roots in a new country and what it takes to be happy as an immigrant in a new country.
Starting with the oldest member of the family one can say that Naoe has had a tough life. As a child she led a protected and sheltered life due to her family’s wealth and respect they initially had among others. But soon they become a victim of an insidious plot based on envy and hatred and are forced to leave their home. Naoe is only five when she is forced to leave everything behind her and start a new life away from the familiar things and places around her. That is the moment when Naoe’s long Odyssey starts and she gets pushed from one place to another. She does not only move from city to city but from one country to another ending up in Canada when she is sixty-five years old.
Migration always involves leaving a well known place behind in order to establish a new home somewhere else for certain reasons, it involves a departure from familiar geographical surroundings and also means the abandoning of social and cultural attachments. It means starting all over, building a new home and turning towards new things. As Naoe says: “Leaving what I know to explore what I don’t.” (p. 76)* And sometimes it can be very difficult especially if people are forced to leave their home or if they are not even asked when the decision is made, as it was in Naoe’s case.
Now, we can see her situation twenty years after her first arrival in Canada. She keeps sitting in her chair, refusing to leave the house. This behaviour shows clearly that she is not ready to accept the new country. She does not feel that she belongs there. She does not show any interest in the new culture, the people and the language. Instead of learning English she insists on speaking Japanese loudly all day long, although her granddaughter Muriel cannot understand her and her daughter Keiko refuses to understand her. One can say that it is very difficult for an older person to embrace a dramatic change and learn a new language. Naoe is an extremely stubborn person and she tries to forcefully hold onto her roots. She even admits that she knows a little bit of English but refuses to speak it: “I could speak the other[meaning English] […], but my lips refuse and my tongue swells in revolt”. (p.15 ) She sits in her chair talking and telling stories all day long. “I speak my words, speak my words, and I say them all out loud. I yell and sing and mutter and weep from my seat of power.” (p.14)
Naoe suffers a lot due to her daughter’s behaviour who refuses to communicate with her in their native language and who also does not want to hold onto Japanese traditions and the culture: “I speak my words in Japanese and my daughter will not hear them.” (p.4) That definitely causes a lot of pain to Naoe. She even says about Keiko: “A child from my heart, a child from my body, but not from my mouth.” (p. 48)
Naoe feels isolated and alienated from others with the exception of Muriel whom she calls Murasaki giving her a trace of Japanese identity. Her granddaughter is the only one who listens to her although she does not even understand the language, but there is a very special connection between them that surpasses all logic.
It seems that the more Naoe is forced away from her home the stronger her connection to her Japanese roots is. Her relationship to her past only gets stronger and deeper: “I found out a long time ago you can never discard the past. It stays with you always.”(p. 146) And the stories she tells are either about Japanese myths or about her own experiences. And they strengthen this connection, they make a sense of home inside of her no matter where she is. By trying to hold onto her past she attempts to overcome the loneliness she experiences bound to the chair in a foreign country.
Naoe does what her family wants her to do, assuming the subordinate position that she had in her marriage. Her husband cheats on her and there are no warm feelings between them. She does not feel happy, feeling imprisoned in this institution, not being able to break out of it. She is also unable to cope with the role of a mother mistreating Keiko often by refusing to talk to her: “Keiko never coming to me because I did not answer” (p. 49) Naoe does not take care of herself, she does not go out. It seems that she suffers a breakdown similar to what is going to happen to her own daughter later. She even admits that with her marriage “bitterness turned inward and [she] didn’t care for the things around [her]. Not even Keiko.” (p.46) This incident from the past may explain the difficult relationship between Naoe and Keiko. They are both stubborn and strong willed. And although they seem to be cold and almost emotionless towards each other the reader is sure that this is only the surface of their relationship. Deep inside they love each other and care deeply for each other. Otherwise Keiko’s breakdown after her mother’s disappearance could not be possibly explained. But while they are together the only contact between them is during their “Hair Day” ritual and during the long sessions of ear-cleaning. These intimate moments are shared and appreciated by both women who hide their real feelings the rest of the time. They “love each other in noisy silence”. (p. 48)
It is also interesting to analyse how Naoe sees her surroundings. Things which she hated in Japan, for example the rain, she misses now being far away from home. She even collects moths, feeds them and takes care of them because they remind her of the silk worms she had to look after at a silk farm where she used to work. Dust is something she misses, too. It evokes memories from the past that she desperately clings to. Her granddaughter Muriel calls her “Old woman of moth and dust” (p. 54) because she is so concerned with the little things around her which give her life a meaning. As long as she can remember the past she feels alive and connected to her home.
* GOTO, Hiromi: Chorus of Mushrooms. Edmonton, Alberta: NeWest Press. 1994. All quotations in this paper come from this edition.