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The Buddha in the Attic Hardcover – August 23, 2011
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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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For those who say they won't read a short story or novella because a story can't be told well enough which means the reader won't have the same depth of feeling I challenge them to read this story. And I have to say (and I hate politics in reviews so I have to apologize) this was such a timely read in today's political climate.
Instead of the vision of the American Dream that the Japanese women have in their minds, they find only fields of vegetables to pick, fruits of orchards to pick and backbreaking work wherever they go, and they travel from farm to farm, orchard to orchard in California with their husbands, just as the nation is on the brink of war.
The title was a puzzle for a while, and it's mentioned briefly toward the end of the book, but I remembered one of the women hadn't thought of her religion nor had she thought of the Buddha for a long time, a Buddha in the attic seems stored away like so many other things that these women had to give up and forget about when they came to a strange country. This was a Japanese diaspora, women leaving their own country for one where they knew nothing of the language, customs or traditions, and many of their children would grow up as Japanese-Americans, but no longer caring about their Japanese culture and heritage.
Reading this book is like reading poetry. It is lyrical and flows from chapter to chapter like the uninterrupted flow of quiet water. The author did a lot of research for this book, so everything that is written is very believable and might well have happened as far as the everyday lives of these women.
I loved this book and I've downloaded the Kindle version of Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine so as not to miss her other book which actually led into The Buddha in the Attic.
Otsuka has captured the essence of the Japanese woman's mind during the era of Japanese "picture brides" and the following decades of motherhood and family, up to the beginning of WW2. Her story is well told and well researched. Those readers who could not tolerate the "endless lists" in the book failed to recognize the reasoning and the effectiveness of inclusivity. The lists included all types of people, activities, habits, places, customs...whatever needed to be discussed...to cover everything and all things. To limit the story to one person, place or problem, is tantamount to failure in capturing a broad, complete picture of a specific ethnic group coping with abnormal circumstances.
My mother was of that generation, though she did not arrive in America as a "picture bride." My father, who had emigrated to America, went back to Japan to marry my mother and bring her back to this country. Nor was my mother from a poor family looking for a better life and future in the prosperous land of the free. Her parents were well-to-do landowners. She was not permitted to marry until her older sister married; thus, she was already 25, almost 26, old for marriage by the standards of the day, when she and my father were married. She was an accomplished woman, having taught in a special school for sewing and related classes. But like the picture brides of Otsuka's story, she had not expected the dramatic change in lifestyle and the hardships she would have to endure. I learned much of the Otsuka story through my mother who never forgot the easy life she led in Japan. The most important quality of character that the first generation Japanese could and would display and relay to their descendants was undoubtedly what pulled them through, with dignity, the so-called "relocation" of Japanese during WW2: Gaman. Gaman is reflected by peserverance and an almost stoic will to survive with dignity.