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222 of 240 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite, illuminating, surprising
Julie Otsuka works magic, inventing an unwavering plural voice to illuminate the hidden experience of second-class women, Japanese mail-order brides in 1920s California. The device seems too ambitious at first but quickly yields a textured atmosphere, a sort of immense and important existence unlike anything you've ever read. Then you can't stop reading, greedily...
Published on August 25, 2011 by Susanna Sonnenberg

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218 of 250 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Group - Collective Voice
We are a book group of 12 and have been together for 12 years. We are mothers and wives. Some work - some don't. We gather once a month to talk about the book, but mostly talk about our kids. We are like most women in most book groups - opinionated, sometimes intellectual, sometimes irreverent. We always have fun. We are good friends.

This is our first...
Published on October 2, 2011 by Julie Carpenter


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222 of 240 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite, illuminating, surprising, August 25, 2011
Julie Otsuka works magic, inventing an unwavering plural voice to illuminate the hidden experience of second-class women, Japanese mail-order brides in 1920s California. The device seems too ambitious at first but quickly yields a textured atmosphere, a sort of immense and important existence unlike anything you've ever read. Then you can't stop reading, greedily absorbing her every precise and haunting observation. And don't be fooled: Otsuka is as fierce and desperate a commentator on America's paradoxes and cruelties as the best of them.
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99 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning., August 29, 2011
This review is from: The Buddha in the Attic (Audio CD)
Two recent issues of "Granta, The Magazine of New Writing" featured chapters of Julie Otsuka's forthcoming novel "The Buddha in the Attic." The first chapter, featured in Granta 114, and titled "Come, Japanese!" left me completely floored and I had to pause and think quite some time before continuing with the rest of the issue. The style of writing in the third person was extremely effective in my opinion. The subject matter was so intense, and so ultimately sad, unjust and horrifying, that a less dispassionate style of telling this story would have rendered it sensationalist. It is powerful enough to just "list the facts." Once one "gets" what is being told in the stories of these very different Japanese women with a common future, you hurt for them and wish retroactively, that you could have done anything to make some of their lives better. Then in the most recent issue of Granta (115) I was thrilled another chapter of Ms. Otsuka's forthcoming book had been featured: "The Children". Same effect. I had already determined to purchase this book, or several copies as soon as it was published, after reading the first excerpt. I am not a reviewer, but am a reader of serious literature and a human rights activist and advocate. I loved this book. It is part of American history. The writing is spectacular.
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218 of 250 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Group - Collective Voice, October 2, 2011
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We are a book group of 12 and have been together for 12 years. We are mothers and wives. Some work - some don't. We gather once a month to talk about the book, but mostly talk about our kids. We are like most women in most book groups - opinionated, sometimes intellectual, sometimes irreverent. We always have fun. We are good friends.

This is our first official book review. We chose "Buddha" before it was released - it was not yet on any top ten or top 100 list, bucket list, or best-seller list - lists we often choose from. There were no reviews. We entered our reading with no pre-existing sway. Some loved "Buddha" - others not so much. The book provoked great debate. It was a book we actually discussed at length. Together we share, in a less-than-perfect attempt at "collective voice":

The happy hausfrau cum MSW, LCSW loved this work of poetry. "The form punched the story beautifully: basic humanity crumbles in the face of fear, war sucks, three pages of rape is a drop in ocean of what women have suffered in and out war time. Each paragraph (stanza?) told a hundred stories. This one small book told volumes of tales in plain, rhythmic language; like the breath and beating hearts of each individual she describes, but collectively! And what about the title of the book? And the single sentence in the text that refers to it?? Is the Buddha just a little piece of identity hidden but preserved, watching over the house? Or a representation "self/spirt" hidden away, denied, stifled in the dusty attic with with other ghosts? Identity and self quietly preserved and celebrated? Or a God demoted, obsolete and even dangerous to recognize in a new land?" 4 Stars

The marketing consultant couldn't get past page pp. 19 to 21 and tried three times. "The book lacked character development." 1 Star

One rockin' housewife found the book to be stylistically superior in its deviation from a traditional narrative form. "Through her use of first person plural the author captures `a people' rather than individual characters; she powerfully and effectively illustrates the Japanese migration to America culminating in the war's effect on the culture. Otsuka's stylistic use of contrary statements creates a denser, richer and ultimately cleaner and more concise work." 5 Stars

Une femme de moyenne age thought that the book failed to connect with the reader in a meaningful emotional way due to the use of the multiple character list format. "At the beginning of the book the novelty of this writing device seemed interesting but by the end of the book it seemed like it was a grocery list of people and activities that served to minimize, instead of enhance, the development of empathy and understanding with the characters. I simply lost interest in reading the lists." 1 Star

The diabetes doctor, chocolate loving mother thought the book an exquisite piece of prose that effectively described the collective experience of female Japanese immigrants in the U.S. "The book described the hopes and dreams and illuminated the suffering, challenges and sometimes the happiness they discover in their new homeland."5 Stars

The desperate housewife found the book piquing her interest in the first chapter. "The varied snippets of the many Japanese wives' thoughts set the stage for what promised to be an interesting book. Little did I realize that the author's use of multiple voices would go on (and on and on . . .) throughout the book. I soon found myself losing interest and becoming frustrated at not knowing even one person's entire story. The promise of the first chapter never came to fruition -- disappointing." 1 Star

One member, an avid reader and former expatriate, found the narrative quite compelling. "I likened the style of prose to a conversation between friends, or documentation of an oral history project." 4 Stars

The crazy professor, but mostly sane mother said: "The book was composed of many quick and beautiful brush strokes that painted a picture of Japanese women's experiences as they tried to navigate a new life during a very difficult time in US history; however, I yearned for the author to slow down and depict the events more purposefully and with greater detail."
1 Star

The teacher of many found the book to be very thought provoking and relevant. "The multiple nameless characters brought home the sheer magnitude of the injustices endured by this entire community. I also found the historical parallels interesting. Buddha in the Attic reminds us that fear and ignorance have spurred the mistreatment of entire races and cultural groups throughout history, and it is sadly still happening in modern day America. Many important reminders and lessons in this book." 4 Stars

The cynical realist said that at the risk of being skewered by the aforementioned intellectuals; found this book to be an enjoyable read despite the serious subject matter. "Though it is narrated in an atypical style, I found the snippets of many nameless people's lives provided a collective glimpse into one of our nation's `dirty little secrets'. The book is easy to read whether you do it in a few minutes at a time or in one sitting. At completion, this beautiful little book also looks lovely on a coffee table!" 4 Stars

The multi-tasking mom thought the book started out very enjoyable and is poetically written, but after a few chapters became boring and annoying. "Everything was `listed' and nothing had any depth. I would have rather followed the lives of 5 women instead of 50 stories never followed through. At least the author kept the story short because with any more pages I don't think I would have finished it." 1.5 Stars

The one who recommended the book, and main-stream-reader in the group had hoped her recommendation would be a good read for all but because of the non-traditional literary style, worried about the group's response. "I thought the subject matter might make the book a `page-turner' but as I made my way through the first chapter, quickly determined that the writing would lend to a discussion more on style and less on content. Though I too, struggled with the `lists', I appreciated the author's research efforts and respect her daring experimentation in style. I believe that in the end, Otsuka's choice to write in a collective voice imparted an eloquence and poignancy in her story telling. I was thrilled that the book provided our group a vibrant discussion." 3.5 Stars
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "STUNNING, INTENSE AND HAUNTING!", September 1, 2011
Julie Otsuka takes the reader on a dramatic, heartfelt roller-coaster ride through California in the 1920's, as she becomes a Master storyteller about the lives of Japanese women, and the symbolic definition of mail-order brides. The horrifying experience about individual lives, during a difficult time in history becomes emotional page-after-page. This book is highly recommended for all American history lovers, and all those in favor of women's rights. The intense suspense in the stories, combined with the trauma these women endured becomes more powerful as we continue to read on. The setting fits like a glove, the characters come to life, and the stories are deeply moving. This book is beautifully written, and will leave a lasting impression upon all those who read it.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Book of Lists, September 24, 2011
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; I was very disappointed with the format and voice of the book; first person plural. This was a book of lists. telling the story of Japanese women who came to the USA in the early 1900's. The format was so redundant I ended up skimming a lot of the material. This would have had much more appeal if the author had followed the journeys of several women and the families they raised.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A totally new literary experience, September 20, 2011
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This narrative is so different from anything I have ever read before that I was forced to check my definition of "novel". What I came up with was: "a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes". I will give Otsuka's story full points for complexity, although it is rather short - indeed, a very fast read.

However, the narrative style, using the "collective first person", was for me the exact opposite of a real portrayal of character and obviously lacking in a sequential organization of action. Indeed, if I had been asked to define this writing, I would have called it a stream-of-consciousness description of the collective experience of young Japanese women in pre-WWII California, a sort of poetic group memoir.

I am also forced to conclude that the incidents described (or perhaps "briefly referenced" would be a better term) are NOT fictional, but the composites of actual experiences. Now I realize that novels can indeed present such actual experiences, and often do, but the genre I recognize is very different from this style of presentation. In general, I found this narrative intriguing, though. The writing style is fascinating, and as already mentioned, a totally new literary experience for me, which therefore defies definition in the standard formats with which I am familiar.

One further comment needs to be made. The last section of this book, which deals with the circumstances in which the Japanese found themselves at the start of the War, is exceptionally well handled. The narrative style here portrays the incredible confusion of the situation and the cruelty of the treatment meted out to them in a magnificently under-stated way.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impassioned portrait of the Japanese picture brides, September 7, 2011
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It's fun to find an author who experiments so boldly with narrative technique and dares to reinvent the novel (or at least try).

This book is more prose poem or verbal painting than novel - but with the novelistic appeal of fast and furious storytelling. The writing is rhythmic, impassioned, captivating. Julie Otsuka has found a totally original way to tell the tale of the Japanese picture brides, the women who crossed the Pacific in the early 1900s to marry Japanese immigrants in America.

She doesn't focus on this one or that one. She speaks for absolutely all of these women - plain and beautiful, squat and slender, ignorant and accomplished, shy and lascivious, rustic and citified - by writing in the first person plural.

"We spoke seldom. We ate little. We were gentle. We were good." She reveals their origins, their motives, their accomplishments, their naïveté, their sexual indiscretions, their shock at finding their husbands to be fruit pickers rather than bankers or silk merchants as represented in their letters.

I'm not giving away the plot, because there is no plot. This book is all momentum, all dazzling flow of language and unforgettable images, like Otsuka's wild evocation of the wedding nights of the picture brides!

Otsuka follows her heroines to the early days of World War II when entire Japanese-American communities disappeared, the surviving picture brides among them, relocated en masse to remote desert camps.

This forced internment of the Japanese was the subject of Otsuka's first novel (another amazing book) When the Emperor Was Divine. My interest flagged a bit at finding the same material here. I felt I'd wandered back into the earlier book somehow. But aside from this slight reservation, I was delighted with The Buddha in the Attic.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Little Treasure, September 16, 2011
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I would never have thought how powerful this technique of writing could be if I didn't read it myself.

I didn't think it was necessary to highlight any of the characters, because the author was the voice for ALL the women. I got the idea of how they spent their days, how they interacted with their men and their children, and how they felt with an economy of words.

I felt for them, lived with them, worked with them, and suffered with them as they lived their lives in America with the men who deceived them from the first letters and photos they received. The ending was the culmination of one of the most shameful times in our country's history.

I thought this book was a little treasure and I recommend it highly.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plural Point of View Dilutes the Message, January 3, 2012
At first I was intrigued by the Otsuka's use of a first person plural point-of-view. Particularly at the beginning, the voice of the group of "picture brides" was powerful, and the collective descriptions made me feel as though I were in the thick of the story, making the long voyage across the sea.

However, after the first chapter I expected the point-of-view to shift and focus. When this didn't happen, I became somewhat bored with the story. In some ways I hate that I felt that way, as I respect what I think Otsuka was trying to achieve.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The first person plural makes this an oddly disengaging narrative, October 24, 2011
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I hadn't read When the Emperor Was Divine, when I decided to read Otsuka's follow-up to that smash success, largely because I was reasonably knowledgeable about the deportations of Japanese-born American residents and their American-born children and grandchildren on the outbreak of WW2 and wanted to read a novel with a more unfamiliar setting and characters -- the experiences of Japanese "picture brides" who came to America with lavish hopes for their new lives only to see them dashed. Ironically, however, it wasn't until the experiences of these women intersected with the events chronicled in Otsuka's prior book that I found much in this novel to admire.

The problem for me was a very specific one: Otsuka's choice to tell the story of these women, arriving in the early years of the 20th century, slowly and painfully building lives in Japantown, in the fields of California, etc., only to be deported to internment camps in early 1942, in the form of a constant "we". We did this, we did that; some of us did this; others did that. There is no "I" anywhere in this brief novel, a stylistic choice that at first intrigued me in the first chapter, began to irritate me during the second, and by the time I finished the third was getting on my nerves in the same way that a dripping tap does. In the chapter where the women become mothers, at least 60 sentences in a row begin with "We gave birth...", followed by the details of where the births happened; how they happened; and the names and natures of the children that were born. Finally, thankfully, one sentence interrupted this -- "Nine months later, we gave birth..." -- and then it was back to "We gave birth..."

Perhaps the author's intent was to force readers to recognize the nature of this collective experience: that all these women were misled as to the nature of the men they would marry; that all faced abuse of one kind or another whether from their spouses or others around them; that all were lumped into a single category as Japanese women or Japanese workers by the white Americans who were their bosses and later their jailors, and that even their children ended up rejecting them. (It also emphasizes the essential group identity of Japanese, where being part of the collective is prized and "a nail that sticks up gets hammered down".) But however beautiful the writing, the repetition of the we and the endless lists drove me nuts as a reader -- I found it impossible past that style and connect to any specific element of the novel. Indeed, it didn't even feel like a novel to me, but more of a prose poem about injustices to a group. But there was never a spot where I could connect emotionally to the narrative. I don't need to find a "nice" character in the novels I read, but I need to find characters to make the abstract events of long ago feel immediate to me, something that never happened here. To care about the fates of these women, they can't be a collective, largely anonymous group of faces.

The saving grace of this work, in my opinion, were the final chapters, as the women come to understand they are now viewed as traitors by the people whom they served and ultimately, as the local white population realizes what their departure means for community life. Those chapters helped boost it to a 3.5 star book, albeit one that I rounded down to 3 stars. Read it to enjoy the writing (some of the time); view it as a prose poem and you may find more here to appreciate. But I ended it feeling as if I'd been instructed to care deeply about the fate of a group of women about whom I had been told nothing more than the bare outlines of their lives, in the same way as pleas for assistance in the wake of a tsunami, earthquake or hurricane emphasize the vast numbers of people affected, so many that you never are able to make the tragedy personal unless you happen to know someone who was caught up in it. Otsuka's approach may be unimpeachably correct by forcing us to recognize how many women underwent this experience and the diversity of their ordinary lives, but even being on a mission and being an elegant writer can't transcend the problem that we can't care about individuals that we don't know in the same way we do those whom we do.
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The Buddha in the Attic (Pen/Faulkner Award - Fiction)
The Buddha in the Attic (Pen/Faulkner Award - Fiction) by Julie Otsuka (Paperback - March 20, 2012)
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