Book Review: The Buddha In the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Buddha In the AtticPublisher: Anchor

Picture brides, in The Buddha in the Attic, refers to Japanese girls and women who sent their pictures to Japanese men living in California. The men sent letters to the females offering marriage and life in America. Very few of the accompanying stories about themselves were true. They weren’t bankers or lawyers or big businessmen. But then, the passage was paid for by the men, and they did promised a life that was often better than their lives back in Japan.

The story starts with the brides’ boat trip and progresses on to their first night of marriage, a look at where they lived and the work they did, on through to talk about their babies and children, how the “whites” treated them, and ends with their enforced removal to internment camps during World War II.

There are no specific characters for the reader to follow in this novel. It’s written in the first-person plural which, at first, threw me off. The plot follows the whole group of women with occasional specific names mentioned.

For me, The Buddha In the Attic felt more like an essay mixed together with a good historical story. I liked it. It was very interesting, actually quite educational. Instead of connecting with a specific characters, I felt connected and very sympathetic to the entire group. Life in general wasn’t kind to them, but they were spunky and tried hard to survive and do well in their adopted country.

The writing was excellent. It often felt very lyrical, like a song or a beautiful poem. The author won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Book Prize. She was also a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. It was a short read but one that stayed in my head for a long time.

I read this book as part of Aarti’s A Diverse Universe challenge. The challenge is only for the last two weeks of September so, if you’re interested, you still have time to join in.

More Diverse Universe

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4 Responses to Book Review: The Buddha In the Attic by Julie Otsuka

  1. Beth F says:

    I’ve had this on my shelf for a long time. I’m not sure why I haven’t read it yet, but thanks to you, now I’m curious.

  2. I can only recall one book I’ve read told in first person plural – The Weird Sisters – and it did take a little while to adjust to the style. This sounds outstanding.

  3. I read this for a book group a few years ago and also enjoyed it. It’s an unusual style, but I liked it. That’s what’s so great about book groups – I may not have tried it otherwise!

    Glad you liked it –


    Book By Book

  4. Aarti says:

    I haven’t read this book but I read When the Emperor Was Divine. That one too felt more episodic and I didn’t connect with any of the characters, but I felt a lot of sympathy for them as a group. The author must have a very particular style.

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