The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011
Borrowed from my library.
Inspired by the stories of Japanese immigrants who came to America in the early 1900’s, this short novel is told in the collective first person, both Japanese and White. Starting with women chosen as “picture brides” on their sea journey to this new place, we learn of their varied histories, thoughts and fears. Who are these men they are going to meet and marry? What will their life be like? Did the Americans eat nothing but meat and were they entirely covered with hair?
Told in short clipped sentences the reader follows these women through their lives, from their “First Night” with their new husbands, the beginnings of married life, issues with “Whites”, childbirth and on up to the Japanese internment of World War Two. At times these sections read like lists and didn’t quite work for me, at other times I was astounded by Otsuka’s clarity of voice, of these voices, and her respect for these people and their suffering. What stands out is their strength, both personal and collective. I found this a striking book.
A year on and almost all traces of the Japanese have disappeared from our town…We speak of them rarely now, if at all, although word from the other side of the mountains continues to reach us from time to time – entire cities of Japanese have sprung up in the deserts of Nevada and Utah, Japanese in Idaho have been put to work picking beets in the fields, and in Wyoming a group of Japanese children were seen emerging, shivering and hungry, from a forest at dusk. But this is only hearsay and none of it is necessarily true. All we know is that the Japanese are out there somewhere, in one place or another, and we shall probably not meet them again in this world. From page 129.