The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic

Book - 2011
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Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award

Julie Otsuka's long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine ("To watch Emperor catching on with teachers and students in vast numbers is to grasp what must have happened at the outset for novels like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird " -- The New York Times ) is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as 'picture brides' nearly a century ago.

In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singularly spellbinding novel about the American dream.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
ISBN: 9780307700001
Characteristics: 129 p. ;,20 m.


From the critics

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Dec 06, 2020

The assemblage of fragments to create an overall narrative was a strong way of conveying the spectrum of experiences of the Japanese brides

Andrew Kyle Bacon
Nov 17, 2020

This is a phenomenal work of historical fiction. The prose is elegant, the narrative fascinating, and the presentation incredible. The entire story is written in first-person-plural, meaning the whole story is told from the collective perspective of a group of women, not an individual. These women are Japanese immigrants, coming to America as picture-brides, to marry Japanese men who work in menial labor jobs. They come to America expecting to find a land of promise and prosper, only to discover poverty, racism, and, eventually, the inside of internment camps when World War II breaks out. This book is beautiful, haunting, and sharp. So sharp that it often hurts to read. This book will break your heart and pierce your soul. The Buddha in the Attic is one of the finest works of literature I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It is also a very brisk and short book.

Jul 28, 2020

An interesting and emotional literary historical fiction about Japanese "picture brides" who immigrated to the U.S. in the two decades just prior to World War II. I read a lot of complaints in reviews about the 1st person plural narrative, but I really liked that.

Jun 08, 2020

This is a short but powerful book. Told from one perspective, and yet from many perspectives of the Japanese young women who came to America for marriage and a hopeful future. This book broke my heart. Although this book is not written like a typical historical fiction book, or even a memoir, or even a biography, I feel it is all of these. It reads as raw and real. It's a reality that's hard to read. That even today, we treat people like they deserve to be treated badly, just because of their skin colour, speech, or even the clothes they wear. Let's all be better humans. Read this book.

DBRL_IdaF May 21, 2020

This is maybe the third novel I've ever read that was written in the collective first person point of view (we instead of I), and the first one where it worked for me as a reader. A group of picture brides comes from Japan to the U.S., having agreed to arranged marriages. It follows them from the ship through discovering the realities of the husbands they are marrying, birthing and raising children, and finally being taken away to camps after Pearl Harbor.

A lot of human experience packed into a slim volume.

Apr 26, 2019

I found the rather unusual format and voice an excellent means to tell the various stories of the "picture brides" and all they experienced coming to a new country and a new husband. I completely enjoyed this book, and will look at others by this author. A fascinating look into both women's minds/views and that of the immigrant Japanese, struggling with both a completely different culture and marriage to a man who was often very different than what he'd portrayed in his letters.

Apr 10, 2019

A slim book that packs a big punch. It tells the collective story of a group of Japanese 'picture brides' starting with their arduous journey by boat to America, through their lives full of back breaking farming or other labor, to the beginning of WW2 and their departure for the internment camps where their whole families eventually ended up. With the use of the collective 'we' Otsuka has managed to give a voice to all these women who bravely tried to escape the fate of being almost nobody in Japan but sadly became completely nobody setting foot on American soil. The repetitive structure reminiscent of an incantation makes the prose extra memorable and strangely haunting.
All in all, a quick but powerful and fiercely poetic read that leaves a lingering impression.

Feb 28, 2018

Written as a list of things that mail order Japanese brides felt about their lives each chapter is both wonderful and disturbing. It is like seeing into the minds and lives of these brave strong women. It gives a picture of the culture they left behind and the struggles of their adjusting to a new life.

For me it was very eye opening. I love the study of history and my birth close to the ending of WW11 has made me interested in that time and things connected to it. Ms Otsuka takes us on a journey from the early 20th century to immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
I recommend it for anyone that is interested in how white privilege is and has affected those who come to the United States.

Sep 19, 2017

This was an interesting premise but the use of the first person plural tense made it utimately frustrating. We did this and we did that so that by page 65 I had lost interest. By trying to cover every Japanese experience in America she really put in too much and diluted the narrative. It would have been better to focua on one or two families.

SnoIsleLib_DarrenN May 04, 2017

Otsuka has written a hauntingly poetic, concisely crafted, and stylistically pioneering work that memorializes the collective voice and experience of Japanese brides arranged to marry unmet and unknown immigrants earlier in American history. With persistent and deeply felt *first* person plural narrative ("we were..we had..") The Buddha in the Attic claims every individual woman's experience as part of the fabric of every other's.

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Dec 24, 2014

And even though we had no idea what he was saying we knew exactly what he meant.

Jul 05, 2013

This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.

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Nov 28, 2014

Arjava thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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Nov 24, 2014

Beautifully written, poetic prose, flowing and lovely. Of the japan experience related to immigration memories and challenges and political consequences of being a visible minority and Asian. North American sterotypes of other and visa versa from the Asian side, views of Americans. The author is japanese american.


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