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The Buddha in the Attic (Pen/Faulkner Award - Fiction) Paperback – March 20, 2012
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“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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Top Customer Reviews
The book is told is different sections that depict different major events in their lives, such as the ride to America, meeting and marrying their husbands, having children, and the effect of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the internment camps.
There are things I enjoyed and things that I had problems with. I very much enjoyed learning about the experiences of these women and like in many books like this, I thanked my lucky stars that I did not share their lives and fates. To say they suffered and sacrificed is putting it lightly, especially when you couple that with their having to deal with a complete clash of cultures and place.
As I stated earlier, the story is not narrated by one person but instead is told by an omnipresent "we" and through this voice we learn about a lot of characters. But we never get to follow any one particular character much beyond that paragraph or so - and for me this made this book a little less effective. At times I felt I had to push to continue (you can easily read this in one sitting - it's more a novella than a novel at just over 100 pages) and I think I would've been more drawn into the story had I gotten to know and follow any one of these women over time.
Recommended for an understanding of what life was like for this generation of Japanese immigrants.
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.
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