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THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC By: Julie Otsuka September 12, 2011

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.

     This is a fascinating account of hopeful Japanese women who came to the United States as brides nearly a century ago. These “picture brides” had diverse backgrounds, and were  from mountains villages, farms, seaports and cities like Tokyo. Few received the lives they had been promised, but the book follows even those who had lives of comfort that were torn apart when the events of WWII uprooted them rashly from their homes.
     The book is written, well, I guess you’d call it collectively, something I wouldn’t have expected to work. But it does. Otuska refers to each woman as “we” or “us,” and any one’s sorrows are adopted by them all. What happened to one happened to “us.” The youngest bride on the ship is only twelve, and while we don’t know the fates of the particular women mentioned in the beginning, we see how they all work fields, scrub floors, pick fruit, prostitute themselves, obey their husbands and employers and have children who grow to be ashamed of them as the younger generation adopts American values. The book leaves us where Otsuka’s first book, WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE takes place — during the chaotic days of WWII when all Japanese and Japanese/Americans were considered spies, threats, or in danger, and were sent to internment camps.
     If you are presently out of work or in a lousy job, and feeling sorry for yourself, this is a wonderful selection to give you a good solid kick in the butt so you can concentrate on counting your blessings. This novel gives us a horrifying glimpse into the lives of some incredibly strong and resilient women who showed the utmost respect for others, even though it was often unearned. They did what they had to in order to survive and so they could give their children a better life. And, amazingly, they took all the crap their adoptive country dealt to them, and forgave.



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