The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka was unlike anything I’ve ever read.

It was told from a collective consciousness point of view, the consciousness being that of  a large group of Japanese female immigrants. These women were known as “picture brides”–pretty much the 1920’s equivalent of today’s “mail order brides.” They came to America for a fresh start in the land of promises, and most importantly, to meet their new husbands.

Much to the women’s dismay, however, the handsome pictures their husbands sent of themselves were twenty years old.   

Not to mention the fact that they weren’t rich textile dealers, merchants, or business men. Most of them were simply farmers looking for free help with the crops and a warm body to lie next to at night. Imagine the women’s surprise. They were expecting to be the lady of home with a white picket fence, not be sleeping in a foreign barn on a pile of hay next to a sexually insensitive stranger.

The book chronicles their lives as a whole. This includes the hardships they faced, the joys they experienced, and even the historic time of the Japanese Internment camps (an ugly little part of American history that many don’t acknowledge.) It remembers the children they bore, the children they lost, the Americans they worked for, and the men they loved (who sometimes weren’t their husbands.)

The book reads very poetically, and the reading the words feels almost like listening to music. Otsuka does a beautiful job depicting what  life was like for these women and I can tell she really did her research. She shed light on a silent, nearly forgotten group.

This is a great book for those who like historical fiction, and especially those who enjoy Japanese culture. It’s only a stretch more than a hundred pages long, and is a quick insight into a subject that most know little about. My only criticism is that some readers may not like the “disembodied” voice narrating the book, and could lose interest not having one main character to follow. I found that to be one of the most interesting aspects of the story, but of course everyone has their own opinion.  For the brevity of the tale, it worked, but if the story was any longer I could see how it could become tedious to follow everyone without really “knowing” anyone. 

4 of 5 stars

About Chelsea McDonald

As an avid reader since I was big enough to hold a book, I continue to enjoy losing myself in the thrall of a good story on a daily basis. Since many of my cohorts do not share the same passion, Cracking Spines will be the perfect outlet to express my adulation or frustration concerning the books that cross my path. In this way, my loyal followers will be able to enjoy the stories that are worthwhile and avoid the duds altogether. I also have a Shelfari account at View all posts by Chelsea McDonald

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