Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Buddha in the Attic

An unusual little book, only 129 pages long, but covering a period in American history not given much attention by many Americans.  If begins with the journey of the "Picture Brides" from Japan to the West Coast of the U.S. and ends with the round-up of all Japanese at the onset of WWII.  It is written in an incantatory style which I found very compelling and very close to poetry.  In it, one traces the history of these women with their expectations, hopes and fears as they make their way to America to begin life with men whom they know only from pictures (many of which are misleading or false), through their first anxious days,  years of backbreaking toil for most of them, childbirth ,and the repudiation of their heritage by many of those children, and the final days of their disappearance from the cities and towns and farms of the West.

The author does not follow the story of any particular woman, so this is not a novel in the usual sense. She writes of the women as a collective body, giving the narrative a universal, interlocking, unity.  One feels the commonality of their stories woven into the individual experiences of each one.

The final section (of eight) is written from the point of view of their American neighbors after the internment of the Japanese.  Where did they go?  Will they return?   Were they really traitors, are the rumors and whispers really true?   

I liked this book a great deal.  I think any woman reading it can relate in some way to the stories of these women, even though her life experiences may be much different. A mother is a mother, a wife is a wife, a woman is a woman, whatever her origins.  

The Buddha in the Attic        Julie Otsuka        Alfred A.  Knopf

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