Published by Knopf on August 23rd 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction
Julie Otsuka’s long-awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago.
In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the picture brides’ 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.
The Buddha in the Attic was an interesting plot in theory but felt like the story was told in fragments almost as if the narrator forgot what they were going to say and just trailed off. I think the part that bothered me about this novel is that there was no designated main character or heroine, and for the most part stayed anonymous coming off as hypothetical statements.
This is not to say the The Buddha in the Attic was uninteresting, it was a curious glance at the women of that ethnicity and their treatment during the early 1900s. The first part of the novel had trouble keeping my attention due to the “fragment thing” The second part, in which we gear up for WWII and suspicions start to rise upon their loyalty I found much more interesting. I thought the chapters were much better formed and captivating. Although, this could also be a personal taste because I find 1940s war era much more intriguing. Overall, I found The Buddha in the Attic to be a forgettable read and if it had been more deft in size may not have finished it.