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The Buddha in the Attic (Pen/Faulkner Award - Fiction) Paperback – March 20, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 833 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Exquisitely written. . . . An understated masterpiece…that unfolds with great emotional power. . . . Destined to endure.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“Arresting and alluring. . . . A novel that feels expansive yet is a magical act of compression.” —Chicago Tribune

“A stunning feat of empathetic imagination and emotional compression, capturing the experience of thousands of women.” —Vogue
“Otsuka’s incantatory style pulls her prose close to poetry. . . . Filled with evocative descriptive sketches…and hesitantly revelatory confessions.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A fascinating paradox: brief in span yet symphonic in scope, all-encompassing yet vivid in its specifics. Like a pointillist painting, it’s composed of bright spots of color: vignettes that bring whole lives to light in a line or two, adding up to a vibrant group portrait.” —The Seattle Times
“Mesmerizing. . . . Told in a first-person plural voice that feels haunting and intimate, the novel traces the fates of these nameless women in America. . . . 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. Though the women vanish, their words linger.” —More
“Spare and stunning. . . . By using the collective ‘we’ to convey a constantly shifting, strongly held group identity within which distinct individuals occasionally emerge and recede, Otsuka has created a tableau as intricate as the pen strokes her humble immigrant girls learned to use in letters to loved ones they’d never see again.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“With great daring and spectacular success, she has woven countless stories gleaned from her research into a chorus of the women’s voices, speaking their collective experience in a plural ‘we,’ while incorporating the wide range of their individual lives. . . . The Buddha in the Attic moves forward in waves of experiences, like movements in a musical composition. . . . By its end, 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.” —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“A gorgeous mosaic of the hopes and dreams that propelled so many immigrants across an ocean to an unknown country. . . . Otsuka illuminates the challenges, suffering and occasional joy that they found in their new homeland. . . . 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. . . . Rapturous detail. . . . A history lesson in heartbreak.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
“[Otsuka] brazenly writes in hundreds of voices that rise up into one collective cry of sorrow, loneliness and confusion. . . . The sentences are lean, and the material reflects a shameful time in our nation’s past. . . . Otsuka winds a thread of despair throughout the book, haunting the reader at every chapter. . . . Otsuka masterfully creates a chorus of the unforgettable voices that echo throughout the chambers of this slim but commanding novel, speaking of a time that no American should ever forget.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Daring. . . . Frequently mesmerizing. . . . Otsuka has the moves of cinematographer, zooming in for close-ups, then pulling back for wide lens group shots. . . . [Otsuka is] a master of understatement and apt detail. . . . Her stories seem rooted in curiosity and a desire to understand.” —Bookpage
“Precise, focused. . . . Penetrating. . . . See it and you’ll want to pick it up. Start reading it and you won’t want to put it down. . . . A boldly imagined work that takes a stylistic risk more daring and exciting than many brawnier books five times its size. Even the subject matter is daring. . . . Specific, clear, multitudinous in its grasp and subtly emotional.” —The Huffington Post

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

  • Series: Pen/Faulkner Award - Fiction
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307744426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307744425
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (833 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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