Friday, November 18, 2011
Review: The Buddha in the Attic
This book consists of the stories of Japanese brides sent to California to marry the men who immigrated to the United States in the early-20th century. On the boat crossing the Pacific the women share stories and photos, hearing about the careers and wealth of one another's husbands while also expressing their anxieties about marriage.
Arrival in California presents a world most of the women never expected. Most find themselves working to exhaustion in fields with little to show for their labor. They are subjected to racism in all of its forms. Much of what they were promised was a myth. The book follows the experiences of these women, from their time on the boat, through marriage and family life, work, and finally through the hysteria of World War II that led to internment.
Otsuka has written this book in the first person plural, a decidedly interesting choice. This has the benefit of allowing Otsuka to explore the varieties and commonalities of these women's experiences. The most interesting and most haunting chapter was the final one, in which white Californians expressed their surprise and wonder at the disappearance of Japanese Americans from their communities. It was astounding how white Americans managed to simply ignore all of the notices that were regularly being addressed to the Japanese community.
This book offers a familiar narrative of immigration, resettlement, and racism. What makes this a fresh and interesting story are the unique writing choices Otsuka has made. This is a rather short book, but it seems to be the right length for the manner in which the story is told.
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic (Knopf, 2011) ISBN: 0307700003