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The Buddha in the Attic Hardcover – August 23, 2011

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The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
This tale of a family begins in 1950s Santa Clara Valley, California, and ends with its adult offspring each narrating his perspective on the family's dynamics and future. Learn more | See related books
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Editorial Reviews


Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award in Fiction

Acclaim for Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic
“Poetic . . . Otsuka combines the tragic power of a Greek chorus with the intimacy of a confession. She conjures up the lost voices of a generation of Japanese American women without losing sight of the distinct experience of each. . . . An understated masterpiece . . . The distillation of a national tragedy that unfolds with great emotional power . . . The Buddha in the Attic seems destined to endure. —Jane Ciabattari, San Francisco Chronicle
“Otsuka’s incantatory style pulls her prose close to poetry.” —Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review
“A stunning feat of empathetic imagination and emotional compression, capturing the experience of thousands of women.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Spare and stunning . . . Otsuka has created a tableau as intricate as the pen stokes her humble immigrant girls learned to use in letters to loved ones they’d never see again.” —Celia McGee, O, The Oprah Magazine
“A lithe stunner.” —Lisa Shea, Elle
“Haunting and intimate . . . Otsuka extracts the grace and strength at the core of immigrant (and female) survival and, with exquisite care, makes us rethink the heartbreak of eternal hope.” —Susanna Sonnenberg, More
“Otsuka’s book has become emblematic of the brides themselves: slender and serene on the outside, tough, weathered and full of secrets on the inside.” —Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Otsuka masterfully creates a chorus of unforgettable voices that echo throughout the chambers of this slim but commanding novel, speaking of a time that no American should ever forget.” —Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis StarTribune
“The novel comprises a gorgeous mosaic of the hopes and dreams that propelled so many immigrants across an ocean to an unknown country. The author, Julie Otsuka, illuminates the challenges, suffering and occasional joy that they found in their new homeland. . . . A social history of the Japanese immigrant experience wrought in exquisite poetry, each sentence spare in words, precise in meaning and eloquently evocative, like a tanka poem, this book is a rare unique treat.” —Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Book Review
“An amazing, wonderful book that will surprise and delight you. . . . Otsuka keeps the language sparse yet evocative, her Hemmingway-like descriptions of scenery and events are lyric and transfixing. . . . Once you engage with this book, it won’t let you leave it, not until you enjoy the last word in the last sentence.” —Greg Langly, Baton Rouge Advocate.
“A delicate, heartbreaking portrait . . . beautifully rendered . . . Otsuka’s prose is precise and rich with imagery. Readers will be . . . hopelessly engaged and will finish this exceptional book profoundly moved.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An incantatory and haunting group portrait . . . Drawing on extensive research and profoundly identifying with her characters, Otsuka crafts an intricately detailed folding screen depicting nearly five decades of change as the women painstakingly build meaningful lives, only to lose everything after Pearl Harbor. This lyrically distilled and caustically ironic story of exile, effort, and hate is entrancing, appalling, and heartbreakingly beautiful.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“A luminous second novel . . . Otsuka works an enchantment upon her readers . . . and leaves us haunted and astonished at the powers of her subtlety and charms. . . . Unforgettable.” —Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal (starred review)
“A lovely prose poem that gives a bitter history lesson.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Daring . . . Mesmerizing . . . Otsuka has the moves of a cinematographer . . . A master of understatement and apt detail.” —Laura Reynolds Adler, Bookpage
“Julie Otsuka paints and sculpts elegant and vivid art with a pencil and words. . . . Succinct and stylish.” —Tony Sauro, Stockton Record

“Daring as well as formally unique…spare, precise, and often pitch perfect.” –Women’s Review of Books

One of Philadelphia Inquirer’s 2011 Staff Favorites
One of San Francisco Chronicle’s Best of 2011—100 Recommended Books
One of Chicago Tribune’s top picks from 2011
One of Library Journal’s Top Ten from 2011

Acclaim for Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine
“[A] crystalline debut novel. . . . [Otsuka has] lyric gifts and narrative poise, her heat-seeking eye for detail, her effortless ability to empathize with her characters. . . . [A] resonant and beautifully nuanced achievement.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Exceptional. . . . Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign. . . . [Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book’s greatest strength.” —The New Yorker
“Spare, incisive. . . . The mood of the novel tensely reflects the protagonists’ emotional state: calm surfaces above, turmoil just beneath.” —Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe
“[A] gentle, understated novel. . . . A story that has more power than any other I have read about this time.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times
“With her gift for compression and her feel for a child’s-eye view of disrupted family life, Otsuka neatly sidesteps any checklist predictability as she covers her ground. . . . While you’re reading this accomplished novel, what impresses you most is how much Otsuka is able to convey—in a line, in a paragraph—about her characters’ surroundings, about their states of mind and about the mood of our country at a time of crisis.” —Michael Upchurch, The New York Times Book Review
“A beautiful little book. . . . Otsuka’s writing is accomplished, absorbing and tight. Her spare prose is complemented by precise details, vivid characterization and a refusal to either flinch at or sentimentalize.” —Kate Washington, San Francisco Chronicle
“An exceptional short novel. . . . A story that is elegiac and representative. . . . When the Emperor Was Divine carves out its own special place in style and substance. The book is shaped like a parable: Short, unadorned sentences say less while signifying more. . . . Stunning economy. . . . An exceptional piece of fiction.” —Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Chicago Tribune
“Prose so cool and precise that it’s impossible not to believe what [Otsuka] tells us or to see clearly what she wants us to see. . . . A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn.” —Ann Stephenson, USA Today
“With a matter-of-fact brilliance, and a poise as prominent in the protagonist as it is in the writing, When the Emperor Was Divine is a novel about loyalty, about identity, and about being other in America during uncertain times.”
—Nathan Englander, author of The Ministry of Special Cases
“Shockingly brilliant. . . . It will make you gasp. . . . Undoubtedly one of the most effective, memorable books to deal with the internment crisis. . . . The maturity of Otsuka’s . . . prose is astonishing.” —Terry Hong, The Bloomsbury Review
“Potent, spare, crystalline—Julie Otsuka’s new novel is an exquisite debut. The novel’s voice is as hushed as a whisper.”
—Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine
“A timely examination of mass hysteria in troubled times. . . .Otsuka combines interesting facts and tragic emotions with a steady, pragmatic hand.” —The Oregonian
“At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental.”
—Mindi Dickstein, St. Petersburg Times
“Her voice never falters, equally adept at capturing horrific necessity and accidental beauty. Her unsung prisoners of war contend with multiple front lines, and enemies who wear the faces of neighbors and friends. It only takes a few pages to join their cause, but by the time you finish this exceptional debut, you will recognize that their struggle has always been yours.” —Colson Whitehead, author of John Henry Days
“Heartbreaking. . . . A crystalline account.”
—John Marshall, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer 

“Heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental. . . .rais[es] the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion. . . . The novel’s honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power. . . . Dazzling.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Otsuka . . . demonstrates a breathtaking restraint and delicacy throughout this supple and devastating first novel. . . .  [She] universalizes their experience of prejudice and disenfranchisement, creating a veritable poetics of stoicism.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Spare yet poignant. . . . clear, elegant prose.” —Reba Leiding, Library Journal (starred review)

About the Author

Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. She is the author of the novel, When the Emperor was Divine, and a recipient of the Asian American Literary Award, the American Library Association Alex Award, and a Guggenheim fellowship. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (August 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307700003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307700001
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (736 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Beautifully written book, Julie Otsuka is a master of a beautiful heritage.
Tonya Speelman
While the snippets of plot are very interesting - there's no character development and no real story line.
I was very disappointed with the format and voice of the book; first person plural.
Book Woman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

230 of 249 people found the following review helpful By Susanna Sonnenberg on August 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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102 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Bookbird on August 29, 2011
Format: 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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229 of 262 people found the following review helpful By Julie Carpenter on October 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Geraldine Ahearn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Trudie Barreras VINE VOICE on September 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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