Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

From the author of the contemporary classic "When the Emperor Was Divine," a tour de force about a group of women brought from Japan to San Francisco in the early 1900s as mail-order brides. In six unforgettable, incantatory sections, the novel traces their new lives as "picture brides:" the arduous voyage by boat, where the girls trade photos of their husbands and imagine uncertain futures in an unknown land . . . their arrival in San Francisco and the tremulous first nights with their new husbands . . . backbreaking toil as migrant workers in the fields and in the homes of white women . . . the struggle to learn a new language and culture . . . giving birth and raising children who come to reject their heritage . . . and, finally, the arrival of war, and the agonizing prospect of their internment.

My take: 4 looks
The subject of Japanese Americans during WWII is not a subject in which I am well versed, and I found this book intriguing. The summary calls the writing style of the novella "incantatory", which is an apt description of the staccato-like cadence of the writing. Many voices speaking about the same subject and separated by an ellipses. The tone is perfectly set in Otsuka's writing style in that it gives the impression of faltering, hesitant, circumspect recollections.

The chapters are written to highlight a particular part of the journey, moving chronologically from the war brides' time on the boat to America to their eventual internment during the war. Each chapter provides a collage of the event (meeting their new husbands for the first time, bearing children, forced into migrant work, etc.). It is a very concise yet stunningly completely view of the scene.

This will make me run right out for Otsuka's other book, When the Emperor Was Divine.

Highly recommended, but with adult themes.

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