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The Buddha in the Attic

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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.

129 pages, Hardcover

First published August 23, 2011

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About the author

Julie Otsuka

10 books1,017 followers
Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. After studying art as an undergraduate at Yale University she pursued a career as a painter for several years before turning to fiction writing at age 30. She received her MFA from Columbia. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Asian American Literary Award, and the American Library Association Alex Award.

Her first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine , is about the internment of a Japanese-American family during World War II. It was a New York Times Notable Book, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers finalist. The book is based on Otsuka’s own family history: her grandfather was arrested by the FBI as a suspected spy for Japan the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and her mother, uncle and grandmother spent three years in an internment camp in Topaz, Utah. When the Emperor Was Divine has been translated into six languages and sold more than 250,000 copies. The New York Times called it “a resonant and beautifully nuanced achievement” and USA Today described it as “A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn.” It has been assigned to all incoming freshmen at more than 35 colleges and universities and is a regular ‘Community Reads’ selection across the US.

Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic , is about a group of young Japanese ‘picture brides’ who sailed to America in the early 1900s to become the wives of men they had never met and knew only by their photographs. It has been nominated for the 2011 National Book Award.

Otsuka’s fiction has been published in Granta and Harper’s and read aloud on PRI’s “Selected Shorts” and BBC Radio 4’s “Book at Bedtime.” She lives in New York City, where she writes every afternoon in her neighborhood café.

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5 stars
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15,390 (28%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,773 reviews
Profile Image for Jen.
70 reviews8 followers
February 22, 2012
Some of us will like the book. Some of us won't. Some of us will find the constant plural first person narrative terribly annoying, wondering if any group of people can be so cohesive and 'one' that they can always speak in unison, no matter the topic. Some of us can't wait to discuss it with our friends on Saturday. Some of us will cancel their RSVP to this week's book club because the last thing they want to do is give this book any more of their time. Some of us won't like it because the lack of an actual plot or timeline. Some of us won't like it because of the total lack of any charachter development, since there are no actual 'characters' in the book. Some of us don't like the title, some of us find the title intriguing, and for that, I am grateful to the author. Some of us find this topic interesting, and wish the book could have shown me more about this hideous time period in our nation's history. Some of us have abandoned this book, some of us are glad it is over and are moving on to the next book on the shelf, and some of us will give Julie Otsuka another chance and read her best seller, "When the Emporer was Divine".
Profile Image for Brina.
897 reviews4 followers
March 23, 2017
I read The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka as part of my women's history month lineup. A well researched, historical fictional account, Otsuka depicts life for Japanese American immigrants to California over a span of thirty years in the early 20th century. Featuring mail order brides who came to San Francisco to meet their husbands for the first time, Otsuka gives a voice to a people whose story would otherwise be lost.

The women came from all over Japan to sail on a steamship to meet their husbands. While huddled and seasick in the ship's hold, these women formed instant friendships that they hoped would last once they reached America. Hoping that life in America would yield a better future than that as a rice farmer, the women as young as twelve willingly left behind their families for husbands they only saw in photographs.

Life in America, according to Otsuka, was not the American dream depicted in letters. The issei- first generation Japanese immigrants- worked backbreaking jobs as migrant farmers. If they didn't farm, they became maids or washerwoman. The women who were rejected by either these jobs or their new husbands, turned to prostitution. The Japanese were lumped with African Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, and other immigrants as people of color and were forced to do jobs that caucasians would not do. As this was during the Jim Crow era, they also got paid meager earnings for working backbreaking jobs. Yet, these women, and their husbands, endured in hopes that their children would have a better life than the one they toiled at.

Although slim in length, Otsuka places this story in a larger historical context by focusing on placing the Japanese in internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The issei and their nissei (second generation) American children were viewed as the enemies of the people. Placed on lists and rounded up in the middle of the night, they were taken away for the duration of the war. They packed slim suitcases and left behind valuables, even heirlooms such as the Buddha left behind in an attic. The government did not differentiate between the Japanese overseas and American citizens about to enter Stanford as their high school valedictorian. Despite being briefly mentioned, I was most moved by this section.

Julie Otsuka has earned an Asian American Literature Prize for her writing. Buddha in the Attic is a small volume but touches on a key 20th century historical event. I wished that Otsuka would have gone more in depth in telling the stories of women who trekked across an ocean to meet husbands who they might not be compatible with. Using telling language, Otsuka creates a poignant prose. I would be interested in reading her other novel, and I rate the novella Buddha in the Attic a solid 3.75 stars.
Profile Image for Pakinam Mahmoud.
749 reviews2,880 followers
May 10, 2023
بوذا في العالم السفلي..كتاب مؤلم عن الفتيات اليابانيات اللاتي تركن بلادهن وذهبن إلي أمريكا أملا في إيجاد زوج مناسب ورغبة في حياة أفضل بعيداً عن لبس الكيمونو الأبيض والعمل مع ذويهم في حقول الأرز في اليابان..

الكتاب بيلقي الضوء علي الإستغلال الإقتصادي الذي عاشه اليابانيين في أمريكا وكيف كانوا يجبروهم علي العمل كالعبيد و يستوردون هؤلاء الفتيات لتوفير أيد عاملة مجانية... كما إنه يوضح كيف تم التعامل معاهم بمنتهي القسوة وإتهامهم بإنهم خطر علي البلاد وطردهم إلي أماكن غير معلومة بعد بيرل هاربر...

علي الرغم من أهمية المحتوي اللي معتقدش ناس أهتمت تكتب وتتكلم كتير عنه إلا إن الكتاب في رأيي مكتوب بطريقة مستفزة..!

الكتاب لا يوجد فيه أي حوار..لا يوجد شخصيات رئيسية..لا يوجد مكان محدد..مكتوب كله بصيغة الجمع ومجرد سرد لتفاصيل و إستعراض لشهادات مكتوبة كلها ورا بعض كإنها تقارير...
مش عارفة أصنفه إزاي بس هو أكيد مينفعش نقول عليه رواية...
كتاب مش ممتع في قراءته ..مؤلم في تفاصيله ..
ولكن بدل إستفادت منه بمعلومات ،يبقي أكيد يستحق القراءة...
Profile Image for هدى يحيى.
Author 8 books16k followers
April 26, 2022
تجمدنا من الداخل..ولم تتخلص قلوبنا بعد من جليدها

أول ما يجذبك ويأسرك منذ ��لبداية هو أسلوب السرد الذي اتبعته جولي أوتسوكا اليابانية الأمريكية
التي اختصرت كل النساء في امرأة
وكل الرجال في رجل

هنا لا تقول زوجي بل "زوجنا" ولا تتحدث عن امرأة بعينها بل تتداخل القصص في قصة واحدة كبيرة

إنها حكاية واحدة
لا فرق بين من قُتلت طفلتها جراء السقوط عن حصان
ومن مات ابنها الصغير بسبب مرض مفاجئ
من تشتغل بالحقول ومن تعمل خادمة

كلهن نفس المرأة المهدرة حقوقها منذ اللحظة الأولى

تخبرك جولي ببساطة أنه إذا كان الرجال يخوضون الحروب أحيانا
فالنساء يحاربن طوال الوقت
لأجل نيل بعض الفتات
لأجل القليل من الكرامة
لأجل أن تعامل كانسان
لأجل أن تصبح أكثر من مجرد تابع

ولسان حالها يقول
أين أنت يا بوذا؟
هلا ألقيت نظرة على أولئك الذين يقدسوك؟

هذه رواية أرشحها للجميع
ورغم قتامتها ومقدار البؤس الذي ينضح منها
إلا أنها ستتركك مستمتعا بوجبة نصية لذيذة
تعبر بقوة عن نون النسوة كأحسن ما يكون
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,652 followers
December 16, 2013
This novella has the most lyrical prose I've read in a long, long time. It begins on a boat in the early 1900s, with dozens of young Japanese women who were being shipped to husbands in San Francisco to begin new lives. The women didn't know it yet, but they had been sold a bill of goods. They had been promised that their husbands were successful, handsome and rich, and that they would love living in America, but the truth is they would become migrant workers in California, and that the women might have been better off staying home in Japan with their families. The book gives a breathless, kaleidoscopic account of the women's hopes and fears and the hard-working lives for which they settled.

I will share the opening paragraph because I think it is gorgeous:

"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 as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we'd been wearing for years -- faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and redyed many times. Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiance, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on."

Another section I loved is from the first chapter about where the women came from:

"Some of us on the boat were from Kyoto, and were delicate and fair, and had lived our entire lives in darkened rooms at the back of the house. Some of us were from Nara, and prayed to our ancestors three times a day, and swore we could still hear the temple bells ringing ... Some of us were from Hiroshima, which would later explode, and were lucky to be on the boat at all though of course we did not then know it."

After the sea voyage, the stories progress to how the husbands treated their wives, and the children that followed and the hard work they endured. And, U.S. history being what it is, we eventually arrive at the bombing of Pearl Harbor (but I don't think that name was ever mentioned), and the last 50 pages of the book show their shock at suddenly being labeled traitors and the fear mongering that persisted, and by the end, the Japanese have disappeared from the town. I thought it was a nice touch that in her acknowledgments, Otsuka admits having reappropriated some lines of dialogue from Donald Rumsfeld in 2001 and inserted them as the "mayor" in 1941. Same principles, different war.

I hope I haven't made the book sound gloomy. I actually found it inspiring and full of beauty and hope. Would I have had the courage to sail off to a foreign land and a strange husband at such a young age? I doubt it.

Update December 2013
I reread this for book club and was still amazed at how beautiful the writing is. Each sentence is its own little story, and it's so rich and visual that I was utterly absorbed in the prose. I highly recommend this, and I'm excited to look up other books by Otsuka.

First read: March 2012
Second read: December 2013
Profile Image for Nataliya.
743 reviews11.8k followers
April 27, 2023
In this slim, delicate, lyrical novel Julie Otsuka unflinchingly and confidently does something that really is not supposed to work for Western readers, those bred in the culture of stark individualism and raised in a society where it's traditional to expect a bright spark of individuality shining through the grey masses. After all, it's the plight of one, the quest of one, the triumph of one that appeals to us - naturally, as individual and personal portrayals appeal to our innate sense of self, make us connect in a way most of us do not when faced with a collective - reflected quite well in every story, every film, every charity poster that brings out the individual behind the masses, appeals to the personal spark inside of us.

But, to quote Terry Pratchett (of course I would!), "Personal's not the same as important. People just think it is."

In The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka breaks the convention of bringing a personal, individual story to the forefront. Instead, she chooses to focus on the collective set of experiences, the collective story of a mass, the voices of many.

"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 nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves." (Come, Japanese!)

"That night our new husbands took us quickly. They took us calmly. They took us gently but firmly, and without saying a word. They assumed we were the virgins the matchmakers have promised them we were and they took us with exquisite care. Now let me know if it hurts. They took us flat on our backs on the bare floor of the Minute Motel. They took us downtown, in second-rate rooms at the Kumamoto Inn. They took us in the best hotels in San Francisco that a yellow man could set foot in at the time..." (First Night)
There is no traditional story, no traditional plot, no individual well-defined and developed characters. Instead, there are only "we", the intertwined voices of many Japanese picture brides spanning the time between coming to America - the land of promise - in the 1920s until the relocation to the internment camps in the 1940s.
"Because if our husbands had told us the truth in their letters - they were not silk traders, they were fruit pickers, they did not live in large, many-roomed houses, they lived in tents and in barns and out of doors, in the fields, beneath the sun and the stars - we never would have come to America to do the work that no self-respecting American would do."

"Whenever we left J-town and wandered through the broad, clean streets of their cities we tried not to draw attention to ourselves. We dressed like they did. We walked like they did. We made sure not to travel in large groups. We made ourselves small for them -
If you stay in your place they'll leave you alone - and did our best not to offend. Still, they gave us a hard time." (Whites)
No individual figures or stories ever appear; instead, there are bits and pieces of everyone's fates weaving together in the tapestry of a common shared experience, encompassing many strands of unique potentialities that can create a true picture only when woven together, the way single pencil strokes come together to create a breathtaking sketch. Devoured in its entirety in a single sitting, it reads almost like a poem in prose, crisp and clear, deceptive in its simplicity, full of imagery that will stay to haunt you for a while.
"Etsuko was given the name Esther by her teacher, Mr. Slater, on her first day of school. 'It's his mother's name,' she explained. To which we replied, 'So is yours.' (The Children)
This book is not for you if you need a defined character to identify with when reading a story. It is not for you if you looking for a clear traditional plot. It is not for you if you need closure for the stories you read.

But if you are looking for the understated, almost poetics in its lyricism narrative that does its best to unite the strands of individual experiences, most of the time only frustratingly hinted at, into a canvas meant to represent the experiences of a greater whole, then you may have found a perfect little volume for you in this sparse but touching little novel.
'A startled cat dove under a bed in one of our houses as looters began to break down the front door. Curtains ripped. Glass shattered. Wedding dishes smashed to the floor. And we knew it would only be a matter of time until all traces of us were gone." (Traitors)

"And after a while we notice ourselves speaking of them more and more in the past tense. Some days we forget they were ever with us, although late at night they often surface, unexpectedly, in our dreams. [...] And in the morning, when we wake, try as might to hang on to them, they do not linger long in our dreams. [...] All we know is that the Japanese are out there somewhere, in one place or another, and we shall probably not meet them again in this world." (A Disappearance)
Profile Image for Debbie W..
724 reviews483 followers
August 26, 2022
Why I chose to listen to this audiobook:
1. GR friend Sonja's review intrigued me to add it to my WTR list:
2. it was readily available on Overdrive (about 4 hrs. listening time); and,
3. August is my self-declared "As the Spirit Moves Me Month".

1. author Julie Otsuka uses such a unique writing style! Rather than having one, two or even three fully fleshed-out female characters tell their stories about their experiences as Japanese "picture brides", Otsuka covers every possible scenario that could have happened to these women with repetitive, but captivating sentence structures (e.g. Some of us...; One of us...; All of us...; They took us...; etc.) By doing this, I learned so much more about what these women experienced on their travels to America from Japan, meeting their new husbands, consummation of their marriages, their backbreaking working conditions, their struggles with adapting to a new culture and language, childbirth, mothering, their children's lives ... right up to their thoughts and experiences as they were forced from their homes to live in Japanese internment camps; and,
2. during the last 1/8 of the book, we also hear what white women thought about the disappearance of their Japanese laborers and neighbors; what they left behind; what eventually happened to their homes, businesses and belongings; whatever happened to them.

Overall Thoughts:
I received a quick but thorough history lesson through a creative literary style. It's a powerful story about tenacity and perseverance to overcome tragic hardships and heartbreak.

If you're interested in reading an in-depth story with only 129 pages about what Japanese women endured during the early 20th-century in America, look no further. This book will move you!
Profile Image for Guille.
755 reviews1,537 followers
February 6, 2022
Es indudable que la autora encontró una manera ingeniosa y eficaz de contarnos en muy pocas páginas muchas de las vivencias de aquellas mujeres que llegaron a EE.UU. en las primeras décadas del siglo pasado provenientes de Japón para encontrarse con el marido al que únicamente conocían por un intercambio epistolar: el uso de la primera persona del plural.

No obstante, esa misma forma, tan útil para describir tantas y tan variadas experiencias, es también su talón de Aquiles: puede provocar saturación y cansancio. Por ello, recomiendo que se lea a pequeños sorbos, aunque también encontrarán momentos en los que no podrán parar de leer, y lo compaginen con otras lecturas. De ser así, estoy seguro de que se emocionarán tanto como se indignarán con este durísimo testimonio colectivo.

En cualquier caso, es innegable que Otsuka consigue dirigir un poderoso foco al vergonzoso recibimiento y degradante trato posterior que primero los maridos japoneses y más tarde los estadounidenses en general dieron a estas mujeres, incluido el oscuro e infame episodio de los campos de concentración durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial en el que no faltaron las acusaciones entre los propios japoneses para salvarse a sí mismos o por pura venganza personal, y para todo lo cual la autora realizó una inmensa labor de documentación. Aunque solo sea por esto, Julie Otsuka merece toda mi admiración y las cinco estrellas que le he otorgado... y que le den a Aquiles y a su talón.

Que sirva este comentario también para llamar la atención del escándalo mundial que suponen todos esos casos que, similares a este o aún peores, se vienen produciendo por todo el mundo y que se producen con el apoyo miserable de líderes y partidos políticos y asociaciones de todo tipo, incluidas las religiosas, a las que apoyan y sostienen miles de personas que, desgraciadamente, nunca leerán libros como este y, de hacerlo, les dará igual.
Profile Image for Chris.
526 reviews82 followers
December 12, 2011
My father served in World War 2, Korea and Viet Nam. He never really talked too much about any of these wars. When we talked about World War 2 the only thing he said was that the American Government's treatment of Japanese Americans was one of the most shameful things we had ever done as a nation, at least in his life-time. He was sickened every time he thought of it. While he was alive, one of his good friends was another retired Colonel named Yamamoto who served with him in World War 2 and beyond, which probably accounts for how deeply he felt about this topic. I thought of Col. Yamamoto and his his son, my friend, David, when I read this book, as I did when I read When The Emperor Was Divine---which I have heard is now required reading in high school in some places, as it should be. This book is even more moving and important. The Buddha in the Attic cuts even deeper, going beyond the politics of the time, or the politics of fear, and gets to the very core of who we are as people, not just as a country. What we value and what we fear. Whether we are Japanese or of any other ethnicity, the dark and very personal stories in this book speak to all of us and they probably always will.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
February 13, 2022
Ebook, ……and Audiobook…
Audiobook is read by Samantha Quan, and Andy Carrington MacDuffie. (excellent voices). 3 hours and 52 minutes long

“The Buddha in the Attic”, a historical fiction novel, was first published in 2011… written by American author Julie Otsuka…..
Its a novel about Japanese picture brides immigrating to America in the early 1900s.
…..with an EXCEPTIONALLY AFFECTING writing style.

While waiting anxiously to read “Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka….[being released February 22nd]….I thought this was an ideal time to read ‘this book’.
“The Buddha in the Attic” was Otsuka’s second novel.
“When the Emperor Was Divine” was her first novel (I gave it 5 stars)….

Before I say more about this 5 star …..devastating…lyrical….powerfully haunting novel….
I’d like to tribute this review to one of my first friends on Goodreads- *MICHAEL
…..who read this book eight years ago (I was going to—but the years slipped by — and now so has Michael)….
I’m still very sad and miss him.
[thank you to Diane S. for keeping me informed - also - thank you Diane for being a big part of some of my very best memories on Goodreads.
We sure had fun participating in a group called
“Books, Movies, TV, and Life”….
It was Michael who first invited me to join the group.
I was the newbie — with WONDERFUL people: Diane, Doug, Jim, Kelly….Michael …..etc.

I wish I had read this book eight years - when Michael did - but I believe (a little anyway), that sometimes a book finds us exactly at the right time when we need it most…..

The BEST I CAN CONTRIBUTE HERE is *re-direct* ……
I hope others will take a few minutes to read Michael’s review of this book….
IT’S BEAUTIFUL….from one of the brightest kindest guy you’d ever wish to meet.

Michael wrote….”with this special form of writing, I can’t help but wonder what else has Otsuka got for us”.
I’m wondering- and waiting too!
As I’ve indicated, I’ll read Julie Otsuka’s next book, “Swimmers”….just as soon as I get a copy in my hands…..
I just wish Michael could too.
I miss him - our friendship - (I treasure music he sent to me— and the many conversations we shared).
Michael was the type of person who made a difference everywhere he went.
May he rest in peace.

If you haven’t read this book yet — were late to the party like I was—it’s only 144 pages - not a long time investment—I recommend it ….(the audiobook is excellent too)
If you’re a reader who appreciates powerful, intimate, tragic (yet beautifully written), historical fiction stories…..
This short book leaves a lasting impression on your heart.

Here is a little sample writing….
“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 as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and we were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we’d been wearing for years—faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and red-died many times. Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us us were the daughters of fisherman who had been around the sea all our lives”…….

“On the Boat”…..”the first thing we did”…..
“we complained about everything. Bedbugs. Lice. Insomnia. The constant dull throb of the engine….. …. …… ……”
“we carried our husbands’ pictures in tiny oval lockets that hang on long chains from our necks”…. ….. …..

“Perhaps we were leaving behind the young daughter who had been born to a man whose face we could now barely recall—a traveling storyteller who had spent a week in the village, or a wandering Buddhist priest who had stopped by the house late one night on his way to Mt. Fuji”……

“That First Night”…..
“Our new husbands took us quickly. They took us gently, but firmly, and without saying a word”…..
“Please turn toward the wall and drop down on your hands and knees”….
“They took us violently…. whenever we tried to resist….”

“They took us swiftly, repeatedly, and all throughout the night, and in the morning when we woke we were theirs”.

…. …… ….. etc. etc. etc. > powerful Greek chorus — a social history of the horrific-Japanese immigrant experience…..
History we should never forget…

The Japanese women worked hard - 10 to 15 hours a day - hard grueling labor - they were lied to - they were abused - they looked tired - they were punished -
All the while…..
……they endured their suffering in stride, in silence, in submission.

Low wages… war…discrimination….
Japanese women had left their homeland in hopes for peace and prosperity in the United States. A ‘hope’ for a better future…..
The tragedies were endless.

My thinking?
NEVER miss reading ANYTHING by Julie Otsuka
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,509 followers
April 28, 2013
This short 100-page read felt to me like riding in a human river and feeling magically a part of it. Otsuka enjoins the reader to flow with the voices of Japanese women from their sea passage to San Francisco as mail-order brides in the 20s to the time of internment in camps during World War 2. Though the women voice many different responses to the challenges they faced, they go through similar stages in the transformation of their hopes and dreams to the new realities of their life in America.

Otsuka’s placing of voices side by side while speaking in a communal “we” evokes a tribal plurality, sometimes conjoining, sometimes contrasting, with the wonderful feel of conjuring the women into life by incantation. With no characters or plot, the book might be classified a prose poem. I can almost see it used in poetry slam readings. Or in a stage production. But as the piece already the structures of harmonious and dissonant themes set into movements, it would take a genius to get the music for a theater version just right.
Just when the format of “we this” and “we that” starts to feel constraining, a new chapter alights that opens the door to another fascinating realm. And when you are prepared to follow the voices into the internment camps, the book leads you instead into the perspective of people in the towns left wondering where the Japanese have gone to. (I will likely follow Otsuka into a story of the camp experience with her “When the Emperor was Divine.”)

The best way to convey to potential readers whether they would like this book is to share her seven chapter titles with the two brief and artfully engaging lines she begins each with:

Come, Japanese!
On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. …

First Night
That night our husbands took us quickly. They took us calmly. …

We settled on the edges of their towns, when they would let us. And when they would not—Do not let sundown find you in this county, their signs sometimes said—we traveled on. …

We gave birth under oak trees, in summer, in 113-degree heat. We gave birth beside woodstoves in one room shacks on the coldest nights of the year. …

The rumors began to reach us on the second day of the war. There was talk of a list. Some people being taken away in the middle of the night. …

Last Day
Some of us left weeping. And some of us left singing. …A few of us left drunk. …

A Disappearance
The Japanese have disappeared from our town. Their houses are boarded up and empty now. …

Many of these girls and women eventually adapted to their hard transition; some met with madness or death in childbirth or in other ways. They struggled with work in cities and fields. Most kept to themselves in separate communities, such as the many "Japantowns" in cities. But when their children went to American schools, the loss of traditional ways in the "melting pot" was almost inevitable. Having to bow to the internment was especially tragic for a people trying so hard to be American. The book was a moving and wonderful window for me.

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Profile Image for J.I..
Author 2 books34 followers
December 4, 2013
It truly boggles the mind all of the attention this book has gotten. The premise is very simple: told in the first person plural, the stories of the women who were brought over from Japan before WW2, generally to miserable lives they had not anticipated, is related. There is no story in this book, however, as it is everyone's story. So we get every variation of where they had come from, every variation of sex for the first time with their husbands, childbirth, work, raising children, interacting with Americans, etc. it is a sad life and a hard one for almost everyone involved, with only moments of joy and happiness smothered by work and misery and mistreatment.

The book is certainly beautifully written. There is a lyricism that is touching, some phrasing of ideas that is striking, some chuckle worthy ignorance about white people that mirrors the ignorance of white people about Japanese and so on. There is also a very striking shift at the end that gives the arc some meaning.

But truly, there is no actual story here. There are no characters, there is no personality--other than the author's, as seen in her lyricism--this is no novel. It is a passage excerpted from a history book titled the struggles of Japanese women in the new world and puffed up with fancy prose. This is not a criticism of what it does, because it seems to me that this is exactly what it intends to be, given the acknowledgement page.

So if you want this prettified history, this book is perfect. If you wanted a novel that attempts to do more than catalog with a poetic touch, you're out of luck completely.
Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book384 followers
April 29, 2021
(First [re]read of 2021, and I'm still as mesmerized as the first time around. Forever a favorite.)

All of us are readers. Some of us made the journey to the library, by walking, by bicycling, by bus, and others clicked a button on a screen. Several of us paid good money for the book, hoping, praying, that it wouldn't be a disappointment. Most could afford it, but some could not, and what a tragedy that would be!

Some of us heard good things, others picked it up on a whim. Pretty cover ran through some of our heads. In Canada, Austria, Japan. Kyoto, Oakland--the very places mentioned in the book. Some of us loved the book, others liked it well enough. Several couldn't stand the style and may not even have finished reading it. Others finished it simply for the satisfaction of leaving a negative review, but they are certainly the exception.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,685 followers
December 13, 2019
“Because the only way to resist, our husbands had taught us, was by not resisting.”
― Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic


I read entirely too much white male fiction. I know this. It is familiar and available. Abundant even. It is everywhere. So, I'm trying to reach beyond my normal boundaries. Read more minority voices, listen to another story. Otherwise, what good is fiction?

Julie Otsuka's little novella was quick. It checks in at 124 pages or so. But it sticks with you. It carries you*. It doesn't have one narrator, but a chorus of Japanese woman who immigrated to America in the early 20th century as mail-order brides for Japanese laborers in California. She follows this beautiful and tragic chorus of woman through a new country, a new culture, new husbands, work, loneliness, work, marriage, work, children, work, racism, and eventually the FDR's Japanese Concentration Camps of WWII (Executive Order 9066).

Newly married, living in Utah, I traveled to Delta, Utah with my wife and walked around the Topaz War Relocation Center. It was haunting. The images of dust and isolation came back to me 25-years-later as I read this book. It was written in 2011, but seems to warn us against the fear we seem to always have of the other (Mexicans, Muslims, Japanese, blacks, etc). We cage them because we don't recognize they are us. One of the lines that struck me the most from this short book was on page 124. It was the mayor of a California town speaking after the Japanese have been hauled away. Some of the words, however, came from a speech by Donald Rumsfeld in October of 2001 (before Guantanamo was a household word, before kids in cages, before black sites, and waterboarding became associated with America):

"There will be some things that people will see," he tells us. "And there will be some things that people won't see. These things happen. And life goes on."

Certainly, life will go on, but Otsuka's haunting prose; her beautiful narrative mantras; the pulsing rhythm of her Japanese chorus of women; her FPP anonymous narrators -- will all haunt me for a long time.

* Although a completely different book, I was reminded several times while reading this novella of O'Brien's The Things They Carried
Profile Image for Odai Al-Saeed.
875 reviews2,412 followers
June 12, 2018
هذه الرواية هي وثيقة تاريخية للمسكوت عنه إبان حرب أمريكا مع اليابان وتتحدث بروح النُّون النسوية بإمتياز كاشفة النقاب عن التمييز العنصري الذي عانينه بتهجيرهن من بلادهن تحت تأثير الدعاية الكاذبة لعيش رغيد إتضح عكسه بمجرد وطئهن أرض تلك البلاد التي ومنذ عهد نشوءها الى وقتنا الحاضر وهي سباقة لكل ماهو مناف للإنسانية التي تروج لها جورآ وبهتانآ
الم العيش وشقاءه يتمثل في حياة هؤلاء النسوة اللاتي اغتصبن وهجرن وسرقن تم استغلالهن أسوأ إستغلال.... رواية تتحدث عن إختلاف الهوية وصعوبة اندماجها بإسلوب قلما له مثيل ....... رائعة
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews205 followers
December 19, 2016

The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

What a mesmerizing reading experience this was. I don't recall reading a historical novel as emotionally intuitive and empathetic as this one in a long time.

I was moved to read Buddha after watching George Takei's Ted Talk in which he describes what he and his family experienced when they were rounded up and taken to a interment camp after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Although a work of fiction, this short novel focuses on the psychological and emotional suffering of the people (particularly the women), whose rights were flagrantly violated and who in the blink of an eye, were forcefully taken to those interment camps during Word War II.

The first person plural narrative Otsuza uses was distracting, even a little irritating at times, but I realized that by choosing that collective voice she is able to put the reader in the shoes of these multiple unnamed, generic characters. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, this serves to personalize the story because as we read along, we are left with the sense that anyone of them could've been anyone of us.

I understand The Buddha in the Attic is sort of the prequel to the author's first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine - A Novel By Julie Otsuka, I very much look forward to reading it.

This shameful chapter in the history of America, feels particularly pertinent now as once again we believe to be justified to discriminate against large swaths of our population solely based on their race, religion and/or national origin. We can only hope history will not be repeated.

If you are interested, you can watch Takei's 15 minute Ted Talk presentation here

Profile Image for Himanshu.
73 reviews223 followers
June 15, 2015
This book was like a muffled scream. A scream that comes from the mouths of a generation. A generation, lost in time and space, of a handful of Japanese girls, women, and children who are shipped to a distant land with a distant dream. An American Dream. They were shipped from their homeland with a photograph of their husbands and a pocketful of hope for a beautiful and fulfilling life ahead: of picket fences covering a lush neatly mowed lawn in front of their wooden A-frame houses. They really were clueless of the world outside the islands of their home, outside the adolescence of their hearts, but, they were laden with the big boxes of conjured up wisdom that their mothers had packed for them.

-"Hold your tea cups with both hands, stay out of the sun, never say more than you have to."
-"A girl must blend into a room: she must be present without appearing to exist."
-"Walk like the city, not like the farm!"

and when they would find themselves in despair, their mothers' last words would ring in their ears, "You will see: Women are weak, but mothers are strong."

They arrive in San Fransisco only to find their fantasies crash at the faces of their husbands who looked twenty years older than in the photographs and surprisingly not with their horse carriages, but in old withered shoes and rags. Their hands were rough and their faces sun burnt. Their fist night, which for some, were filled with tenderness, while for some, filled with melee, and for others, filled with variety of experiences, kick started their long awaited lives.

Julie Otsuka has written this underrated masterpiece with such ferocious yet lyrical prose that every sentence tells a story. Quite literally, because it's not a story of individuals told separately, but a tale of hundreds of Japanese told all at once. Sentence by sentence. Word by word. And, she has done it so powerfully in these 129 pages that it leaves an impression of having sifted through a hundred lives in a very short span.

In eight sequential sections, Otsuka has convincingly laid out the chronicle of these Japanese women who came to America in 1900s, made it their home, and were forced to flee with their families in the hinterlands during the world war.
As soon as they reached shore and came across their fates, they had to immediately draw themselves out from their premonitions, their dreams, and their identities and be on their toes to succumb and submit. Because, what else could "them little Japs" have done really?

“We lost weight and grew thin. We stopped bleeding. We stopped dreaming. We stopped wanting.”

In those alien lives, when some of them had kids, they hoped for a sliver of redemption. But, alas, the childhood of a kid of a detested race is the harshest and ultimately forces them to grow up to alienate their mothers and their traditions. To hate themselves and everyone else. Which is what happened here. Of course, there were some who lived a decent life, keeping their heads down, speaking a few words of English all their lives, but of course that didn't save them from being victim of xenophobia during the war.

These group of Japanese families spread around in the society and did lowly jobs that Americans preferred not to. They lived on the bare minimum and asked for a tiny place in the society which they never received, till the abductions started. However, they did become part of the lives of the Americans. Afterall who would do the perfect dry cleaning of their linens? Surely, not that Chinese guy. Who would be the perfect tenants from whose floor one could literally eat off? Who would now sit on that front chair in the classroom with a shy smile? Who would mend their gardens and make them look absolutely beautiful?

But as time goes on, so does the lives of these Americans. Gradually, the remnants of the Japanese were faded out of their memories as if they never really lived there or had any part in their lives. But the children, they did not forget. They never do.
Profile Image for Tahani Shihab.
592 reviews826 followers
November 5, 2020
بوذا في العالم السفلي للكاتبة جولي أوتسوكا

"بعضهم تركوا اسما
لا يزال يذكر بثناء
وبعضهم الآخر لم يتركوا أي ذكرى
واختفوا كأنهم لم يعيشوا.
كأن لم يكونوا قطّ،
وكذا أبناؤهم من بعدهم”.
سفر الجامعة،8-9 ; 

في 113 صفحة، استطاعت الكاتبة جولي أوتسوكا أمريكية من أصل ياباني أن تؤرخ عن حقبة منسية لمعاناة اليابانيين في أمريكا. كتبت الرواية بصيغة ضمير المتكلم “جمع المؤنث”؛ ليس في الرواية بطل أو بطلة، هناك فقط سرد للتاريخ من خلال صيغة المتكلمات اللواتي عانين الغربة والإذلال بخنوع على مدى أجيال.

تبدأ القصة من الباخرة التي أقلّت فتيات هاجرن هرباً من حياة البؤس في بلادهن إلى أمريكا لملاقاة أزواج لا يعرفونهم إلا من خلال صور أُرسلت لهن مع وعود برفاهية العيش، وإذا بهن يتفاجأن بأزواجهن الموعودين في أشكال على غير الصور الذي أُرسلت لهن، وأن أولئك الأزواج ليسوا أغنياء بل عمّال يابانيين بسطاء يعملون في مزارع القطن والخضروات.

تبدأ معاناتهن من أول يوم حطوا رحالهن في أمريكا مع أزواجهن الذين اِسْتَعْبَدُوهُمْ جنسيّاً وفي العمل المتواصل المرهق في الحقول والبيوت دون رحمة أو شفقة حيث كان أزواجهن يجبروهم على العمل كالإماء.

كانوا يستوردون هؤلاء الفتيات من اليابان لتوفير أيد عاملة مجانية، كنّ يعملن في الحقول من الصباح إلى المساء دون توقف حتى للأكل، حياة كلها بؤس وشقاء واستغلال واضطهاد.

يتعرضن لمضايقات من قبل المجتمع الأمريكي الذين كانوا يحرقون محاصيلهن الزراعية، أو يقومون بإضرام النار في قن الدجاج. مضايقات لا تعد ولا تحصى تكتبها وتعددها الكاتبة في الرواية. يبدأ النساء يتساءلن بينهم وبين أنفسهن وهم وسط هذا المجتمع العنصري عما إذا كنّ قد ارتكبن حماقة عند قدومهن للاستقرار بأرض كثيرة العنف شديدة العداء. البعض منهن اشتغلن في بيوت الأمريكان منهن من لقت معاملة حسنة ومنهن من تحرش بهن الرجال وهن خاضعات مستسلمات صامتات ومنهن من حملت سفاحاً ثم يتم طردهن من العمل عندما ينكشف أمرهن.

جيل بعد جيل وهم يعانون من الحمل والولادة المتكررة في ظروف بيئية صعبة مع العمل الدؤوب يومياً … أما أطفالهن الذين انسلخوا من بيئتهن الأصل دفعهم خزيهم من أهاليهم وتمسكهم باللهجة الأمريكية إلى تغيير أسمائهم من اليابانية إلى الأمريكية عن طريق التماهي مع المجتمع الأمريكي العنصري.

تشدّك الرواية لقراءتها فقد كتبت بأسلوب مُميّز لم تعهده من قبل، لكنك تُصدم بنهاية فصول الرواية عندما تتعقد وتت��ابك الأحداث عندما تهجم اليابان على بيرل هاربر وما ترتب عن ذلك الهجوم من معاناة على اليابانيين المقيمين في أمريكا حيث قامت الحكومة الأمريكية بتهجير اليابانيين من بيوتهم وحقولهم وقراهم وأحيائهم السكنية إلى المجهول بتهمة التآمر والتخابر مع العدو ولم يعرف مصيرهم بعد ذلك.

رواية مؤلمة عندما يكون الأمل وهم، والحلم كابوس والغربة صمت وألم جاثم على الصدور.

“هل توجد قبيلة أشد همجية من الأمريكان؟”.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,761 followers
January 8, 2012
A lovely poemovella. Or novellem? How would one categorize this hybrid poem-novella? Whatever its genre, it is without a doubt eloquent and unforgettable. Within this slim volume the history of 20th century Issei and Nisei - first and second generation Japanese immigrants to the western hemisphere - is told by Japanese women, who must "blend into a room", who must "be present without appearing to exist." Otsuka gives these women fearless, tender, angry, sorrowful voices and dares you to not hear.

Countless ships of "picture brides" arrived at docks in California from Japan not long after the end of World War I. These young girls clutched photographs of handsome young men they would meet for the first time. The mail-order brides were terrified by the uncertainties of living in America, of becoming wives and lovers to strangers. They were ill from the long voyage at sea and desperately homesick - although most had been sent to America to relieve their families of financial burden; they knew their only future is before them, their only home the one they would build with their stranger-husbands. "Deep down, though, most of us were really very happy, for soon we would be in America with our new husbands, who had written to us many times over the months." Their men had written of good jobs, large homes and shiny cars.

Of course, with very few exceptions, these promises were lies. These women left lives as laborers in Yamaguchi rice paddies or Osaka brothels to become laborers in California fields or maids in mansions. But they survived, creating homes and businesses with their husbands and children, most keeping to the shelter of the local Japanese community - either by choice or by expectation - until the onset of Word War II. And then they, along with their families, neighborhoods and communities, disappeared.

The story is familiar; it is Otsuka's style that makes this work revelatory. It is told in an incantatory fashion, by a chorus of a thousand unified voices. Rather than relying on the traditional arc of plot and character development, Otsuka reveals the experience of a generation of immigrants through the poetic sweep of images and emotions. It is a song of oral history tamed by a pen, but only just so.
Profile Image for Amr Mohamed.
843 reviews375 followers
May 14, 2020

أحدنا كانت تحمّلهم مسؤولية كل شئ وتتمني لنفسها الموت..وأخريات تعلّمن العيش دون التفكير فيهم.. كنا نضع كلّ قوانا فى العمل...يسكننا هوس قلع شعبة طفيلية أخري....أخفينا مرايانا....أقلعنا عن تسريح شعرنا..نسينا التجميل..نسينا بوذا..نسينا الإله....تجمدنا من الداخل..ولم تتخلص قلوبنا بعد من جليدها..أظن أن روحي ماتت....لم نعد نكاتب أمّنا..فقدنا وزننا وصرنا نحيلات..لم نعد نحلم

كل رواية قرأتها أريد أن أصل لنهايتها لمعرفة النهاية او مقصد الكاتب الا تلك الرواية ورواية الأفلام لم اريد ان تنتهي تلك الرواية أبدأ ..رواية تعيش معها ويصلك معاناة تلك النساء فى كل سطر..أسوب سرد رائع بصيغة الجمع تتحدث به الكاتبة عن معاناة حقيقية ليابانيات هاجرن من بلدهم الى امريكا ليتزوجوا من رجال من بلادهم ويعيشون فى أمريكا..يهاجرن الى حياة أفضل ولكن كل ما مروا به لم تكن إلا معاناة..

معاناة من أزواجهم..من العنصرية..من العمل كلإماء..من تجنب الناس لهم ولأطفالهم..حتي تصل الى الحرب العالمية الثانية ويعيشوا الرعب من تهجيرهم ..من قتلهم ..من التبليغ عليهم أو اتهامهم بالخيانة ..عن اللوحات المعلقة التى تريدهم أن يتركوا منزلهم وحقلهم وكل شئ....واخيرا تقوم الحكومة بتهجيرهم الى الجبل ولا يعلم أى أحد معلومة عنهم بل تم نسيان وجودهم فى ذلك المكان..

بعيداً عن الضيعة فيما يقال توجد بيوت بيضاء فاخرة.... مراياها مذّهبه الأطر.... مقابض أبوابها من الكريستال.... ومراحيضها من الخزف تنظف بمجرد جذب سلسلة وليس بها رائحة.... بعيدا عن الضيعة توجد أمهات يتناولن فطورهن فى الفراش كل صباح.... واباء يقضون نهارهم فى المكتب.... جالسين على الأريكة... يصرخون بأوامر فى الهاتف ويتقاضون عن ذلك أجراً... بعيدا عن الضيعة فيما يقال حيث ذهبنا .... نظل غرباء ... وإذا صادف أن أخطأنا الباص فقد لا نعود للبيت أبداً

Profile Image for Hoda Elsayed.
399 reviews810 followers
February 22, 2017
تاريخ الناس البسطاء، تاريخ النساء المنسيات اللائي كن فى الباخرة مجرد أنفاس مكتومة في العالم السفلي
وفي العالم الجديد أصبحن مجرد حضور باهت يعملن في الحقول والبيوت وحول قوارب الصيد.
قول الأمهات لبناتهن قبل الرحيل:" النساء ضعيفات لكن الأمهات قويات."
يرسم بوضوح التصور ال��ي اعتنقته المرأة عن التحول الإجتماعي، إذ تخرج من دور إلى آخر،
متمثلًا فى امتحان قاس واختبار الألم والتحمل والجور المعنوي والجسدي.

يُقدّم هذا العمل صور لا متناهية،لا تهمل تسجيل كل تجربة، ولاتغفل أبسط تفصيل من تفاصيل الصورة.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,161 reviews509 followers
April 10, 2015
A novel, without characters, with a non-fictional theme, but with a timeline, recollects the true events of a group of Japanese young women's immigration to America. They are caught up in a marriage scam of agents seeking wives for Japanese migrant workers who pose as wealthy businessmen in the initial plan, living the American dream.

The book is divided into different historical sections, starting with the young girls' journey on the ship, through their disappointing discovery of the truth, and their slow adaptation to the American lifestyle in which they become slaves to their new husbands, as well as low-paid workers on farms, organized by their husbands.

It ends with the disappearance of the Japanese inhabitants from their communities all over America during WWII.

The first part of the book, in which one voice tells the collective stories of the different girls, was extremely confusing. All paragraphs, and/or sentences of the entire chapter, started out with either ON THE BOAT..., Some of us.., or Some of us on the boat...
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 young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we'd been wearing for years - faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and redyed many times. Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fisherman who had been around the sea all our lives.
Well it immediately drove me insane. But I persisted to the next chapter.

The FIRST NIGHT of 'marriage' had an ever bigger challenge. Every single sentence of this chapter started out with: " They took us..."
They took us calmly. They took us gently. They took us with exquisite care. They took us flat on our backs on the bare floor of the Minute Motel. They took us downtown, in second-rate rooms... They took us in the best hotels in San Francisco... They took us for granted. They took us by the elbows and said quietly, "It's Time". They took us before we were ready... They took us with our white silk kimonos twisted up high over our heads. They took us violently, with their fists... They took us even though we bit them. They took us even though we hit them...

And on...and on...and on....and on....and on....and on...

An entire chapter's sentences started with They took us...

By this time I knew this promising love affair with this book was over, and WE were only hitting chapter two.

So yes, although I switched off like a light bulb, I still wanted to know about OUR experiences. The reading was continued: reading and reading and reading. Somewhere along the time line, when WE entered the promises of OUR own picket fences and small businesses, this piece of history captured me. The intricate detail and rich prose slowly crept into my soul.

The book ends where all the Japanese are gone from the broader society, removed with ghost trains to secret, unknown destinations, and is replaced with Mexicans and other groups.

A bitter, or nostalgic ending? The right moment to end a tragedy in which the 'concentration camps' are never mentioned in so many words?

It is still a riveting, tragic, and informative book to read. Written from a unique angle, it can capture the attention, or lose it. I have read several books about this part of the Japanese history, which, in my humble opinion, captured the essence of these shameful events much better. And makes more sense as novels. However, and apart from the repetitious annoyances mentioned above, the beautiful prose of this book is outstanding.

To choose WE as the protagonist was ambitious and challenging. It did not work for me. But the historical aspects of the book, and the detailed descriptions of the discrimination, hardships and day-to-day adjustment to a hostile society was indeed a fascinating and heartfelt experience.

I feel really bad for not rating it five stars. I wanted to read this book for a very long time, and I am very glad I finally did it. It is still a wonderful read in the end. It's a 100-page fast read. Absolutely worth the effort.

And of course, we all know how history changed for the better after these horrible events. You will just have to read it in another book.
Profile Image for Idarah.
464 reviews48 followers
October 1, 2014
Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic is a beautiful collection of short stories that I will cherish and think about for a long time. I've said it before: it's often difficult to write about things that are closest to my heart, and this one is no exception.

Told from the perspective of many picture brides sailing to San Francisco from their various hometowns in Japan during the early 1900s, Otsuka relates their dreams and fears in a constant stream of thought. When the brides finally arrive, each encounters a different reality than what they'd been promised. Life is hard for these women, to say the least, and like an experimental documentary, we are allowed to follow hundreds of these characters through the early years of thier marriages, child bearing and rearing years, and the endless work that consumes their lives either cultivating fields on the West Coast or in domestic service.

The final segment of their stories ends with the onset of World War II, and the months leading up to the internment of all citizens of Japanese descent. It's heartbreaking and so real–what must be going through someone's mind when they're abruptly forced to leave behind everything they've toiled to bring to fruition?

I'm not sure if this is a novella or a series of short stories, but I savored each and every chapter. I've never read a book that was written in this unique style. There are many historical fiction books about the experiences of individual Japanese picture brides, and I've seen a few great films as well, but to attempt a book that collectively mingles in so many women's contrasting experiences into a short volume is impressive! I will definitely be rereading this in the future. In fact, it's whettted my appetite for more books about the Japanese American experience at the turn of the century. A highly recommended read!
Profile Image for فهد الفهد.
Author 1 book4,765 followers
April 27, 2017
بوذا في العالم السفلي

هذه قصة بلا أبطال، كتبت بضمير الجمع لتعبر في البداية عن ملحمة النسوة اليابانيات وهن يتركن بلادهن ليصلن إلى أمريكا كزوجات للرجال اليابانيين المهاجرين، ولكن الضمير يتوسع مع الوقت ليضم المجتمع الياباني في أمريكا في مرحلة تاريخية مهمة قبيل الحرب العالمية الثانية، عندما تنامى العداء لليابانيين في أمريكا وتفجر مع بيرل هاربر، ليقود لما صار فيما بعد وصمة عار في تاريخ أمريكا، عندما تم التشكيك بولاء آلاف الأمريكيين من أصل ياباني وتم تهجيرهم إلى معسكرات خاصة في الصحارى الأمريكية، الرواية مؤلمة كأي رواية تكشف لنا عذابات البشر المتكررة على مر التاريخ.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,167 reviews1,639 followers
September 30, 2011
A chorus of narrators – the “we” tense – is not the easiest voice to pull off. Julie Otsuka adroitly uses the tense to great effect in her latest book, The Buddha in the Attic. It’s a searing insight into an entire community of innocent and naïve Japanese women who arrived in California after World War I, with dreams of their new American life that would soon be cruelly shattered.

Each of these women – whatever fate decrees for her – is also connected to the larger body of the sisterhood, women who move from the ship to the farms, the Japanese laundries, and the servants quarters in fine houses…women who obey and often secretly (and not so secretly) hate their husbands, are forced into becoming lovers to their employers, bear children, watch the children die or shun them because of their foreign habits.

The style is poetic and haunting. Take the description of the men who will become their husbands: “Some of them asked us to speak a few words in Japanese for them just to hear the sound of our voice. It doesn’t matter what you say. Some of them asked us to put on our finest silk kimonos for them and walk slowly up and down their spines. Some of them asked us to tie them up with our flowered silk sashes and call them whatever names came to mind, and we were surprised a what those names were, and how easily they came to us, for we had never before said them out loud. Some of them asked us to tell them our real names, which they then whispered again and again until we no longer knew who we were.”

The novella shifts from poignancy to heartbreak when the Japanese are rounded up and interned during World War II. “Curtains ripped. Glass shattered. Wedding dishes smashed to the floor. And we knew it would only be a matter of time until all traces of us were gone.” It’s a cautionary tale of how easy it is for us to dehumanize the latest immigrants and not recognize the individuality that shines through each of them.

Of course, all traces of “them” were not and will never be gone. Julie Otsuka sees to that. She writes a lyrical tale that made this reader gasp with its eloquence.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,240 reviews533 followers
March 21, 2012
Otsuka's story of the Japanese picture brides of the early 20th century is an unusual novella, written from the perspective of the group "we", the multiple experiences of the women who came to America for a "better" life for themselves and, in some cases, to help families left behind.

The style is evocative of, perhaps, the repetition found in Native American poems and song. Here it isn't so much repetition as the format of lists of expectations, fears and experiences. Amazing. And this also makes it feel universal to all women, certainly all women immigrants. The primary difference from other cultures is in the closure, the forced relocation of the Japanese out of their homes, their work, their schools, sometimes their marriages, for relocation away from California during World War II.

There is much to think about here and, to my mind, the form this story takes adds to the impact. Where hearing one or two individual stories carries weight, here we see the weight of generations.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
September 10, 2019
As with most short stories or novellas, this almost 'prose-poem' of a book is probably best if you can read it straight through, in this case to get the full effect of its incantatory prose.

Though it's mostly told in first-person plural, it reminded me of the style of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, another treatment where what seems like 'just' a list of things is so much more. It does what I feel literature does better than 'knowing the facts': reminding us, showing us, that behind the 'numbers' are individuals.

Be sure to read the author's note at the end to see whose words she uses for her fictional mayor's. It makes an important part of history even more relevant to today.
Profile Image for Susan Sherwin.
660 reviews
February 8, 2012
What a fabulous read!!! From the journey from Japan to San Francisco of Japanese mail-order brides to the onset of Japanese Americans sent off to internment camps during WWII, I was spellbound by Julie Otsuka's "The Buddha in the Attic." Narrated from first person plural and told from the POV of a group of women, this is a powerful story, for it allows the reader to see multiple perspectives yet still see the women as individuals. This would be a terrific selection for a book club.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,733 reviews648 followers
November 30, 2016
A narrative about the experience of Japanese women in the 1920s-40s who came to the USA as "mail-order brides" for Japanese men.

The writing style of Otsuka will probably polarize readers. Many may find it just a "book of lists" covering every possible experience encountered by those women as they try to make California their home. Others may find the shifting in narrative voice among women and groups of women confusing or disconcerting. For me, the concentrated way in which Otsuka conveyed a wealth of information and experience was both challenging and satisfying.

I was not surprised that it was a fine foundation for a good discussion on many levels including: the roles of women (in Japan, in the USA); the way that immigrants are viewed in America; what constitutes integration into American culture and society; various survival techniques and their relative success; and, what people will do when they think they can get away with it.
Profile Image for Sara Bow.
217 reviews990 followers
July 7, 2017
Was für ein einzigartiger und Mitreisender Schreibstil! Das Buch hat mich von der ersten an Seite mitgerissen und ich konnte es nicht aus der Hand legen. Otsuka hat großartige Arbeit geleistet. Das Buch ist sehr interessant und ich konnte viel von diesem Buch lernen. Die Autorin schreibt nicht aus der Sicht von einer, zwei oder drei Frauen - sie lässt eine ganze Generation für sich sprechen und von ihren Wünschen, Träumen, Erfahrungen, Schicksalen uvm erzählen. Auswanderung, Heiratsvermittlung, Krieg und weiteres behandelt dieses Buch. Neben den offensichtlichen Informationen, die mir diese Geschichte gegeben hat, konnte man so viel zwischen den Zeilen lesen und ich war komplett in dem Buch gefangen und habe auf jeder einzelnen Seite mit den Frauen mitgefiebert. Das Buch hinterlässt einen drückenden Nachgeschmack - aber ich kann es jedem nur ans Herz legen !
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