Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

I’m not sure why it took me so long to read this one, perhaps because it’s such a slim volume that seems to get swallowed up in the overabundance for my bookshelves.  

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is the beautiful, poetically rendered story of Japanese picture brides, lured to the American west coast in the early 20th century by promises of a new life and young husbands made wealthy in a nation where the “streets are made of gold.”  The reality of the life they find is much different, filled with grueling work, devious men, ignorance, and racism.

Otsuka tells their stories as a collective, using the first-person plural “we” throughout the book, and what could easily become an irritating conceit is instead wielded with power to tell the story of many in few words.  While there may not be a specific character to latch on to, Otsuka manages to beautifully capture the essence of a whole experience, nimbly passing from woman to woman, from the farm worker, to the laundress, to the maid until she has drawn out the breadth of their experience.  A powerful story, beautifully told.  Highly recommended.