Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Buddha in the Attic

Title:  The Buddha in the Attic
Author:  Julie Otsuka
Publication Information:  Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, Inc. 2011. 103 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book based on reading about it in the New York Times. The book came as an ebook edition from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "You will see:  women are weak, but mothers are strong."

The Buddha in the Attic tells the history of a segment of our country. It tells the story of the "picture brides."

To understand the book, you have to understand a little of the history behind it. In the late 19th century, Japanese men travelled to the US to seek work. The original goal was to work, earn, and then return home. For a variety of reasons. the men were unable to do so. So, they worked with matchmakers in their native country to select brides. The young women or their families agreed to the marriages - some for economic reasons and some because "it was better to marry a stranger in America than grow old with a farmer from the village." These young women became the picture brides.

This book tells the story of one group of such women and their experiences in the US. It begins in the early twentieth century with the journey on the boat to the US and concludes with the onset of World War II. Through these women's eyes, we witness their disillusionment as reality does not match the picture painted in letters, the migrant worker life style, the development of ethnic communities, the birth, childhood, and assimilation of their children into US culture, and finally the treatment of the Japanese at the onset of World War II.

The book is unusual in that it is narrated in first person plural. It is told from the perspective of the entire group of women rather than one individual. As such, it is very descriptive in nature. As each point in life is reached, it is described for the group and then in statements like "one of us....." or "most of us...." or "we.....". The only difference in narration comes in the last chapter, and it most effectively makes the point.

The book is history. The book is narrative in nature. The book does not have an individual main character. Yet, it is an absolutely beautifully told story. It is personal and emotional and pulls me right in. The group of picture brides become the single main character. You travel their journey with them - the love, the fear, the tears, and everything else in life.

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