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Book summary and reviews of The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic

A Novel

by Julie Otsuka

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  • Readers' Rating:
  • Published:
  • Aug 2011
    160 pages
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About this book

Book Summary

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 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.

Once again Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A lovely prose poem that gives a bitter history lesson." - Kirkus Reviews

"Starred Review. Each section is beautifully rendered, a delicate amalgam of contrasting and complementary experiences.... Otsuka's prose is precise and rich with imagery." - Publishers Weekly

This information about The Buddha in the Attic was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cathryn Conroy

Brilliant, Eloquent Writing: This Is One of the Most Powerful and Poignant Books I Have Ever Read
This very short novel—really, more a novella—is one of the most powerful and poignant books I have ever read. It is the story of the Japanese "picture brides" who were sent to the United States in the early 20th century to marry Japanese men, who mostly needed another set of hands to do farm work and someone to warm their beds at night.

What makes this book so unusual is that it is told in the first person plural using the pronouns "we," "us," and "our" (instead of "I," as is typically done in the first person) by an unnamed narrator without named characters to populate the story. The first few sentences set the linguistic style for the rest of the novel: "On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves." The brilliance of this literary ploy is that author Julie Otsuka can better tell the sweeping, tragic story of the whole, rather than focusing on only one story that is not representative of the entire experience.

And tragic it is. Beginning with the trip on the boat from Japan to San Francisco, the story continues with the young women's first night with their new husbands, their hardworking lives doing backbreaking, exhausting labor, their birth experiences, their children, and their deportation to Japanese internment camps during World War II.

The immense power of this short book is in the masterful writing, which is so eloquent and exquisite that these words of prose are as close to poetry as prose can ever become.

This is the heartbreaking and remarkable story of resilient young women who immigrated to a strange land without family or friends and how they gradually relinquished their native identities of self and country to become Americans—even though they were shunned and persecuted and never fully accepted.

Jamie Zammito

The Buddha in the Attic
Poignant, startling, enigmatic, but not bitter for all these amazing women have been through! Like a poem, prose written in first person stays with you long after you have read it. it was a bitter-sweet read for anyone who has a heart !

Kathryn K

Amazing Book
The Buddha in the Attic, is quite unique and an amazing read! Although, I must immediately add that it cries out to be read out loud! It's the first novel I have read in a long time that is written in poetic form. It tells the of Japanese women who came to America as "picture brides" and tells the challenges they faced.

As a selection for my book club, I was very discouraged as I was unable to read,due some short term vision problems. My husband read It to me! He has the voice and the book took my breath away! The discussion was lively and it made a made our top favorite list. Having my husband come to read a few pages, was a special treat!

Louise J

Stunning Novel
This wonderful, captivating novel reads almost like a documentary and would, in fact, make for great t.v. viewing...An excellent novel!!

Sheryl Royer

Beautifully conceived and written
This book grabbed me within the first few sentences and will not let me go! It is unique in every way, from the first person plural perspective from which it is written, to the subject on which it is based, to the beautifully poetically crafted sentences of which it is comprised. It is the story of Japanese women brought to the US before WW II to be brides to Japanese immigrant men they did not know. It is not one story, but dozens. Yet it is succinct, easy to read, and compelling. It always amazes me when a writer finds yet another unique way to tell a unique story and Julie Otsuka certainly has in this book. I've not read her books before, but I will now eagerly seek them out.

Dorothy T.

A novel approach
This book is called a novel, but seems like a documentary. It has no main character, yet it feels like there is one. There is no plot, but it is a story that moves to a climax and a conclusion, and moves the reader's emotions with it. I know this review may seem enigmatic, but I encourage you to give this little book a try as the author seeks to give a voice to an unsung group of women in California history.

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Author Information

Julie Otsuka Author Biography

Photo: Jerry Bauer

Julie Otsuka is the author of the novels When the Emperor Was Divine, winner of the Asian American Literary Award and the American Library Association Alex Award, and The Buddha in the Attic, an international bestseller and winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Prix Femina étranger, the Albatros Literaturpreis and a finalist for the National Book Award. She is also the author of The Swimmers. A recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, she lives in New York City, where she writes every afternoon in her neighborhood café.

Author Interview
Link to Julie Otsuka's Website

Name Pronunciation
Julie Otsuka: oat-SOO-kuh

Other books by Julie Otsuka at BookBrowse
  • When The Emperor was Divine jacket
  • The Swimmers jacket
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