Title: The Buddha in the Attic
Author: Julie Otsuka
Length: 129 pages
This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.
I wasn’t familiar with this book before it starting appearing on all of the “Best of 2011” lists – particularly, the NPR reviews. All of the buzz that I heard about after the initial exposure have been just about how incredible of a piece of writing this is. So, I made this my first library loan of 2012!
At 129 pages, the only way that this could be a LONG read is if the writing was insufferable. Luckily, it is not. The story is told through the collective point of view (We, Some of us, Our…) of a group of Japanese women who came over to America as young brides-to-be to men that they only through mostly false pictures and completely fake letters. Our first glimpse into their reality is from their departure from Japan, where they leave behind their families and move towards, what they believe, will be a stunning future in America.
After their arrival, we follow them through their first nights with their husbands, their jobs, the violence, their children, their pets, and everything ends with the internment during WWII. The final section, after the internment, shows us the reaction of the Americans who were their neighbors, employers, and, in some cases, their friends. What we don’t see, we soon forget, sometimes even when it comes to the plight of our fellow human beings.
Even though there isn’t one solid narrator/character that the reader gets to become intimately familiar with, Otsuka succeeds in creating, and cultivating, some sort of relationship between all of the women and the reader. There were times during the book when I felt incredibly connected to these women with whom I have very little in common. I wanted to listen to their complete stories, hug them, and then yell at the people who spread the rumors or burned down their barns or crops, abducted their children, or took advantage of them in any way.
I fully understand why this book made it onto countless lists for 2011. I’d highly recommend this book and I look forward to checking out her other book, When the Emperor was Divine.
New York Times book review of The Buddha in the Attic.