Julie Otsuka’s, The Buddha in the Attic, might be a little book, but within the 127 pages is a big story that lingers on the reader’s mind long after the final page has been read.
Otsuka tells the story of the Japanese “Picture Brides” who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, established new lives in a foreign land and tried in earnest to gain a piece of the American Dream. The themes explored are those familiar to many: growing up and leaving home, homesickness, friendships, working and raising a family, and the accompanying joys and sorrows of life, marriage and parenthood. The book recounts hardships encountered by the Japanese American immigrants during the early twentieth century through their relocation to internment camps during the Second World War.
What makes this book so profound is the style the author employs to recount this melancholy and little discussed segment of our country’s history. The story is told in the collective voice of the immigrants, interspersed with voices of the individuals, sharing personal feelings, experiences, observances and anecdotes of their lives. Otsuka carefully chooses her words, sparse and poetic, creating a story whose prose are hauntingly beautiful.
Do not rush through this book, but rather pause and reflect as your read it. I find I cannot stop thinking about it. It is the best book I have read this year.
Check the WRL catalog for The Buddha in the Attic
P.S. I whole-heartedly recommend Otsuka’s first book, When the Emperor Was Divine, which I read while waiting for my copy of The Buddha in the Attic to arrive. It is an equally moving book.