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JANUARY 3, 2012
Buddha in the Attic ~ Julie Otsuka
comments by CarolK
Julie Otsuka could be called a woman of few words. The Buddha in the Attic comes in at under 150 pages but she can convey more in this tightly written novel than others could in a tome.
Buddha in the Attic left me breathless. From the outset when we first meet these Japanese women, some not even in their teens, leaving their homes and families, sailing away on a ship to a foreign land, clutching pictures of their husbands to be, we know this is going to be a special book. These are the Picture Brides. These are the women Otsuka offers us, culling their stories from journals and interviews, giving them a collective voice as they come to San Francisco in the early 1900's. Not one woman, but all these women are laid before our eyes in eight, spare chapters, each revealing their journey from young innocent girls, to bride, to wife, to mother. Their initial excitement at coming to America is soon dampened by the harsh reality of their new home and the life they will lead. Hard labor in the fruit fields, maids in the rich households of others, prostitution, the women do whatever to survive though this is not guaranteed. From their meager homes, to their communal baths, for these mostly obedient women, time rushes them towards their fate as interment order 9066 approaches. We share in their bewilderment and confusion and want to yank them from what they must accept.
The imagery in Buddha in the Attic is stunning. It reminds me a bit of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. This is one of my favorite books of 2011. I feel like I'm not doing Budda in the Attic justice!