Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review : Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Author: Julie Otsuka
Publisher- Format: e-book galley: Knopf Doubleday 160 pgs,and audio: Books on Tape, Random House Audio - 3 hrs, 52 min
Year of publication: 2011
Subject: Japanese mail-order brides
Setting: US - 1st half of 20th century
Genre: historical fiction
Source: ebook- publisher galley through NetGalley; audio - public library download

The publisher entices us thusly: "... a tour de force about a group of women brought from Japan to San Francisco in the early 1900s as mail-order brides. In six unforgettable, incantatory sections, the novel traces their new lives as "picture brides": the arduous voyage by boat, where the girls trade photos of their husbands and imagine uncertain futures in an unknown land . . . their arrival in San Francisco and the tremulous first nights with their new husbands . . . backbreaking toil as migrant workers in the fields and in the homes of white women . . . the struggle to learn a new language and culture . . . giving birth and raising children who come to reject their heritage . . . and, finally, the arrival of war, and the agonizing prospect of their internment. Once again Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times."

Written almost entirely in the first person plural voice, the author uses this unusual point of view to give us what appears to be an impersonal overview of all that is happening - "we did such and such, one of us did this, etc." .  But as the haunting repetitious prose chants itself into our brain, we the reader realize that the events being portrayed were at once incredibly personal, intimate, and private moments of the entire group.  They may each have experienced their lives individually, but these experiences paint a collective picture of loneliness, despair, hope, encouragement, and ultimate heart-break.  

It is truly, as the publisher touts, a tour-de-force.  It is easy to see why it was a National Book Award finalist.  The poetic nature of the prose, and the vivid imagery of the women's adjustment to life in America, to marriage with men they did not know, and to a country that does not quite accept them, are well worth the short time needed to immerse oneself into the story.  It won't be quickly forgotten.


  1. I have the audio book from the library but haven't listened to it yet. Your review was great, and several others have enjoyed this as well.

  2. I think the "we" thing might get on my nerves after a while, but the rest of the plot and the way you've described it sounds so good that I'm thinking of getting over it.


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