Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka, Knopf, August 2011
It is a short book, just over 100 pages but it is both haunting and heartbreaking
This is the story of Japanese mail order brides who came to the US in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. The author has chosen a unique way to tell their story. Instead of concentrating on one or several of these women she has chosen to tell the story in a plural voice. This story is overwhelmingly sad and it wouldn’t take much to push their experience into a sensationalist saga. She conveys the strangeness of the new land, the homesickness felt by these women and the language barriers they faced. Just when these women have formed an attachment to the new land and have raised children who are now strangely to them so American, all of the Japanese are taken to the internment camps. Certainly a unique immigrant story, but must read American history.
Otsuka’s writing style is straightforward and quite elegant in its simplicity. Few characters in the novel are named, I’m sure in an effort to show the anonymity of these women. Many of the paragraphs read like chants which only add to the mystic of the story. It is a short book, just over 100 pages but it is both haunting and heartbreaking. Every immigrant group from the Pilgrims to the present day refugees has their unique story; these women are well served in the telling of theirs.
I read a review copy of this novel provided by the publisher