Jennifer Zobair's Reviews > The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
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's review
Jul 26, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: books-i-adore

I started reading Julie Otsuka's THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC and within a matter of pages I was in love with her gorgeous prose, her precise, sometimes unflinching attention to detail, the unique choice of protagonists--the Japanese "picture brides" who came to San Francisco in the early 1900s.

By unique, I mean not just who the women were, but how many of them narrate this concise novel. Until the last chapter, the story is told from the collective point of view of the women. Within this narrative, Otsuka weaves in individual voices--of suspicious white people and difficult husbands and, most importantly, of the women themselves.

The novel starts with the Japanese women's voyage to America on a ship where they slept "in steerage, where it was filthy and dim," and follows them through their first nights with their husbands (ranging from tender to brutal), their attempts to pursue the American dream in the face of racism and suspicion, their experience having and raising children, and finally the coming of World War II and the internment camps.

By the middle, I will confess to some impatience, some sense that the novel was starting to read like a series of lists--however exquisitely rendered--and I wondered if I would feel more invested if the story recounted just one woman's journey. But the details are compelling, and the prose is beautiful, and I kept reading. And for that, I was so richly rewarded.

I don't want to give anything away, but I will say this: I was a lot more invested than I thought. And the ending of the book hit me so much harder for having "known" so many, many of the women affected.

In short, I think the choice of how to tell this story is a critical part of the story, is necessary, is genius.

THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC is a lyrical, richly-detailed, important novel. I highly recommend it.

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