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The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Julie Otsuka

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1,4321405,255 (3.77)206
Title:The Buddha in the Attic
Authors:Julie Otsuka
Info:Knopf (2011), Hardcover, 144 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned, Favorites

Work details

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (2011)

  1. 50
    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Anonymous user, SqueakyChu)
    Anonymous user: A sweet love story but an eye-opener about Japanese and Chinese Americans at the time of Pearl Harbor attack
  2. 00
    The Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan (Limelite)
    Limelite: Not about the Japanese immigration experience, but set in San Francisco in the late 19th C., this novel evokes Chinatown and the impact Chinese and Americans had on each other depicted in a tightly personal experience. Readers will find common themes -- racism, struggle, isloation -- as in Otsuka's novella.… (more)
  3. 00
    Ru by Kim Thúy (raidergirl3)
    raidergirl3: nonlinear short chapters, immigrant experience
  4. 00
    Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (speedy74)
    speedy74: This book also provides information regarding the Japanese internment.

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» See also 206 mentions

English (124)  French (4)  German (4)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  Piratical (1)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (140)
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
This is a recent short novel about Japanese picture brides coming to San Francisco at some undefined time in the early 20th century (1910's most likely.) It is told in a very artistic manner that initially I found refreshing until I realized the entire story was going to be told like this. We have eight vignettes at different points in time and place of the women/girls from Japan. To me the strongest chapter was the first with the passage across the ocean from Japan to California with a collection of hopes, dreams and fears. The story does not have individual characters to follow through time. There is always a collective "We" with the occasional mention of names, but not anything like a "normal" continuity. As I said the method of storytelling was initially refreshing, but for me ultimately unsatisfying. I am sure other readers may have different reactions. The story is also much darker than I expected. This is the 20th century after all, with all the plusses and minuses that go along with that and we spend a lot of time on the dark side.

I didn't like the story but I can admire the skill that created it. There's an odd cadence to much of the writing and while reading this it was almost like a rhythmic chanting of the sentences. ( )
  RBeffa | Aug 28, 2015 |
This book is the story of group of women who came to California from Japan in the early 1900s as mail order brides. It follows the group of women from the time they are on the boat coming from Japan, through their first meetings with their husbands, the birth of their children, and their internment during World War II. The style of the book is really interesting. It is written from the first person plural perspective. I don't know that I have ever read a book from this perspective before. The novel does not have any central characters. Instead, it captures the general story of the women as a group, yet it still honors each individual's experience. Many of the sentences in the book start with, "Some of us...", "Many of us...", or "One of us..." While this perspective was interesting, I found that at times it became a little tedious. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
There was so much in this work - so many voices and so many experiences. But I was expecting a novel reading experience and this was more like reading a poem - there was no main character or storyline. In our bookclub one reader posited that the author chose this form to make a point - that to outsiders the Japanese women of this novel were just one big nameless, faceless group. If so, this form is a bit hostile to the reader - saying in effect, "this is all you think of us anyway". I would have enjoyed it more if there had been some consistent storylines that I could follow from chapter to chapter. ( )
  tjsjohanna | Jul 19, 2015 |
“And we knew it would only be a matter of time until all traces of us were gone.”… except… “Haruka left a tiny laughing brass Buddha up high, in a corner of the attic, where he is still laughing to this day.” Forgotten, erased, but nonetheless there – the book’s title.

Written in the highly effective collective, the “we” expressed numerous parallel experiences of the early Japanese immigrants rolling over a duration of about 23 years, ending at a piece of disgraceful American history – the Japanese Relocation Exec Order. Between the “all of us”, “many of us”, “some of us”, and “one of us”, with or without specific names, stories were told in the same time frames, often in continued text without paragraphs that spanned pages, and yet very easy to understand and most importantly, to feel. The rush of emotions – despair, optimism, defeated, resilience, acceptance – from this collective was almost overwhelming at times. However, unlike many books where all the negative events dwell on one or two characters, having infinite characters share different experiences made the book much more realistic than any immigrant stories I’ve read.

Engrossed at the start by Chapter 1 (the best chapter), the background, hopes, dreams, and friendship of these picture brides provided firm character developments and created high affinity. My brain knows things won’t end well, but my heart is still rooting for them. Chapter 2 was incredibly gruesome – their “first night”. I genuinely couldn’t handle it, especially since the words felt so true. Even the last sentences, though more positive, read like Stockholm syndrome. (The majority of the men throughout the book are deplorable.) The story move onwards with “Whites” – their encounters with white men and women, their meager means of making a living in farm and city life, “Babies” – the beginning of many but also quite a few deaths and also the ability to lease land under the name of their American born child, “Children” – conveys new perspectives from the new generation but also their labors in the fields, “Traitors” – the war begins, “Last Day”, and finally “Disappearance”. The last chapter wisely switched perspective to the Americans, describing what they thought was happening. Again, very effective. The ending was exactly at the point I would have wanted.

Finishing the book, all of me felt educated, many parts of me felt distressed, some parts of me felt traumatized, and one part of me remained hopeful. The collective me approves of this book. :)

4 star for the book + 0.5 stars for the collective “we” usage

Some quotes:

On dreams – and nightmares:
“At night we dreamed of our husbands. We dreamed of new wooden sandals and endless bolts of indigo silk and of living, one day, in a house with a chimney. We dreamed we were lovely and tall. We dreamed we were back in the rice paddies, which we had so desperately wanted to escape. The rice paddy dreams were always nightmares. We dreamed of our older and prettier sisters who had been to the geisha houses by our fathers so that the rest of us might eat, and when we woke we were gasping for air.”

On being accomplished – (my brain jumped to the clever words in Pride and Prejudice also):
“Most of us on the boat were accomplished, and were sure we would make good wives. We knew how to cook and sew. We knew how to serve tea and arrange flowers and sit quietly on our flat wide feet for hours, saying absolutely nothing of substance at all. A girl must blend into a room: she must be present without appearing to exit. We knew how to behave at funerals, and how to write short, melancholy poems about the passing of autumn that were exactly seventeen syllables long. We knew how to pull weeds and chop kindling and haul water, and one of us – the rice miller’s daughter – knew how to walk two miles into town with an eighty-pound sack of rice on her back without once breaking onto a sweat. It’s all in the way you breathe.”

On the memory of a child left behind:
“On the boat we had no idea we would dream of our daughter every night until the day that we died, and that in our dreams she would always be three and as she was when we last saw her: a tiny figure in a dark red kimono squatting at the edge of a puddle, utterly entranced by the sight of a dead floating bee.”

On how to be a wife:
“It was their women who taught us things we most needed to know… How to wash a lipstick stain out of your husband’s favorite white shirt even when that lipstick stain was not yours. How to raise up your skirt on the street to reveal just the right amount of ankle. You must aim to tantalize, not tease. How to talk to a husband. How to argue with a husband. How to deceive a husband. How to keep a husband from wandering too far from your side. Don’t ask him where he’s been or what time he’ll be coming home and make sure he is happy in bed.”

On sweet children:
“They worried about us when we were sad. They knew, without our telling them, when our knees were bothering us or it was our time of the month. They slept with us, at night, like puppies, on wooden boards, covered with hay, and for the first time since coming to America we did not mind having someone else beside us in the bed.”

On lessons to children – I was surprised by some of this and made a note to myself to research:
“… We taught them everything we knew… Don’t be loud like the Americans. Stay away from the Chinese. They don’t like us. Watch out for the Koreans. They hate us. Be careful around the Filipinos. They’re worse than the Koreans. Never marry an Okinawan. They’re not real Japanese.”

On the evacuation order – I didn’t think it’d be possible to smile but I did:
“Teiko stared at the notice in disbelief and quietly shook her head. ‘But what about our strawberries?’ she asked. ‘They’ll be ready to pick in three weeks.’”
I simply find her comment to be both pragmatic and innocent. ( )
  varwenea | Jul 12, 2015 |
33. The Buddha in the Attic (Audio) by Julie Otsuka, read by Samantha Quan and Carrington MacDuffie (2011, 3:52, ~110 pages in paperback, listened May 26-29)
Rating: 3 stars

A National Book Award and IMPAC Dublin award finalist, this short book, told in a collective we, covers the experience of Japanese mail-order brides. They immigrated to California by boat to meet their various generally disappointing husbands and live generally unexpectedly difficult lives as agricultural laborers until they were all sent to concentration camps during WWII.

I had just given up on several audiobooks when I tried this one, really as a backup, and found myself instantly caught up it. I kept on enjoying it for awhile. I was caught up by their expectations and really a bit stunned by what they found. It's almost unimaginable, the difference. Unfortunately it keeps going and going and going. By the end I was thankful it was so short. So a mixed experience for me. ( )
  dchaikin | Jun 27, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
This passage may give a clue as to how Julie Otsuka's book is to be read. She calls it a novel. It is closely and carefully based on factual history/ies. There are novelistically vivid faces, scenes, glimpses, voices, each for a moment only, so you cannot linger anywhere or with anyone. Information is given, a good deal of it, in the most gracefully invisible manner; and history is told. Yet the book has neither a novel's immediacy of individual experience, nor the broad overview of history. The tone is often incantatory, and though the language is direct, unconvoluted, almost without metaphor, its true and very unusual merit lies, I think, in that indefinable quality we call poetry.....I am sorry that after it, in the last chapter, she suddenly changes her narrative mode and ceases to follow her group of women. The point of view changes radically and "we" suddenly are the whites: "The Japanese have disappeared from our town."
Narrated in the first-person plural, The Buddha in the Attic is a slight, but powerfully moving piece of prose. It tells the story of a group of Japanese mail-order brides, from their journey to America, through marriage, work, childbirth and motherhood, until they and their entire communities are rounded up at the beginning of the war....Some might find the plurality of voice troubling, suggesting that it does little to restore individual identities to those whom history has forgotten, but I would argue the opposite. A host of individual characters and experiences crystallise as families and communities take root
But the book’s plural voice is particularly effective at capturing their long, giddy conversations on the ship as they wonder if American men really grow hair on their chests, put ­pianos in their front parlors and dance “cheek to cheek all night long” with their lucky wives....But no story in the conventional sense ever develops, and no individuals emerge for more than a paragraph....Had we known them as full individuals — as real and diverse and distinct — we couldn’t have whisked them away to concentration camps in the desert. A great novel should shatter our preconceptions, not just lacquer them with sorrow.

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Julie Otsukaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Scholtz, KatjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.

Barn's burnt down—
I can see the moon.

For Andy
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On the boat we were mostly virgins.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307700003, Hardcover)

Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award

Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine (“To watch Emperor catching on with teachers and students in vast numbers is to grasp what must have happened at the outset for novels like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird” —The New York Times) is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ nearly a century ago.

In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singularly spellbinding novel about the American dream. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:45 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Presents the stories of six Japanese mail-order brides whose new lives in early twentieth-century San Francisco are marked by backbreaking migrant work, cultural struggles, children who reject their heritage, and the prospect of wartime internment.

(summary from another edition)

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