book review: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The basics: The Buddha in the Attic is the story of Japanese picture brides from their journey on a boat shortly after World War I until World War II.

My thoughts: Julie Otsuka enchanted me from the very first paragraph:
"On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonas we'd been wearing for years--faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and redyed many times. Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen teh sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiance, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on."
 It's a large section to share, but it's indicative of Otsuka's collective and haunting style that continues throughout the book. Some will love it and others will hate it, but I was firmly on the size of love. Through eight thematic chapters, the readers experiences a remarkable depth of experience and emotion. One cannot tell the entire story of Japanese picture brides in 129 pages, but Otsuka comes amazingly close.

This novel is impressively precise and emotional. Although the reader does not learn the names of the characters and cannot trace the journeys of individuals through this novel, it still has the emotional and narrative power of a character-driven novel.

The verdict: Unlike anything I've ever read, The Buddha in the Attic is a mesmerizing journey of what life was like for the Japanese picture brides. I'm eager to read her first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 129 pages
Publication date: August 23, 2011
Source: my local public library

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  1. From reading that little snippet you've posted here, I can say that this is probably a book that I would love. I love it when an author seeks to explain a time or phenomenon and uses so many descriptors and imagery, and it seems like Otsuka does this very well. This is a book that I really need to add to my wish list soon. It sounds so powerful and wonderful!

  2. Wow, like you I thought that first paragraph did well to establish tone and set the scene. This sounds like something I would really like.

  3. Gah, this sounds amazing! This is a book I'm totally unfamiliar with -- but like you I'm going to look for her novel, too!

  4. Yay! When The Emperor Was Divine was awesome...and short, like this one, which I'm totally reading. Soon.

  5. I'm so glad you loved this, too! It will definitely be on my 'best of' list this year!!

  6. I'm not even sure what a picture bride is, but I'm totally intrigued by your review!!


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