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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 21 January 2012
This wonderful novel tells the story of a group of young Japanese women, mail order brides shipped over to America in the 1900s to an unforeseen future, and a life and culture so alien to theirs. The journey takes us from the beginning as they commence their long and gruelling boat trip, full of trepidation and hope, and then continues as we learn of their lives as wives, mothers and as labourers.
This is a short book but each and every of the 129 pages is so absorbing and in my opinion beautifully written.
Highly recommend.
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on 12 February 2012
"The Buddha in the Attic" is a strange novel. There is not one protagonist, or small named group of protagonists, with who the reader can connect. It is written entirely in the first-person plural "we". Occasionally, a named character will appear and stay for a paragraph at most and is never heard from again. We never find out how any individual story ends.

We follow the mostly-nameless group of Japanese mail-order brides through arranged marriages to men who claimed to be bankers with large houses when they were labourers living in one-room shacks, through the chorus of descriptions of their separate wedding-nights, covering hard-work in America, child-birth and rearing children who were ashamed of their heritage and their parents' weathered hands, to the growing suspicion and persecution by their American neighbours as war approaches, which is written about in an eerily-frank matter.

I'm not "giving away" the plot. I wouldn't say there's much of a plot to give.

But, for me, this is not a weakness, because of the sheer quality of the writing. The writing is what makes this book. It is beautiful, lyrical. Reading "The Buddha in the Attic" is like reading long passages of poetry, with each chapter flowing musically into the next, so it's impossible to put down.

And, through this expressive writing, we feel we learn all about the Japanese arranged brides. We learn about their hopes, their motives, their histories, their indiscretions, and their disappointments, even if we never learn their names. Julie Otsuka allows us to walk in their shoes, and to feel with them: their joys, their sorrows, their dreams of a new life, and their determination to make it work even when dissatisfied.

Conclusion: A beautifully haunting book that will stay with me.
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on 29 January 2012
A beautiful novel, each word is exquisite.
The unusual use of the collective voice is moving and allows the author to create many stories in what is a very short novel. You could read it one sitting.
I found the glimpses of parting from mothers, babies, grown children very touching.
Like the book, the characters seemed delicate, but were strong. The characters seem unquestioning, but through their voices the author makes her point very firmly.
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on 24 June 2014
On opening the book one is immediately struck by the fact that our narrator is not the usual "I" but "we". I've only come across this once before - in the wonderful "We The Drowned" by Carsten Jensen - it worked very well in that novel and it works again here.

The "we" in question are young Japanese girls and women making their way to new meet new husbands in America and Julie Otsuka creates an amazingly evocative atmosphere from the moment that they embark on their journey through to the outbreak of World War II. By using the "we" technique the story is not limited to the trials and tribulations of one of the girls but instead we see a wide spectrum of what their new world holds. For many it is not the promised land they had hoped for and their husbands don't turn out as expected. For a lucky few, life is good.

For a relatively short book, the author has crammed in a great deal and we learn a lot about a group of people who are very much forgotten today (I certainly knew nothing about them before reading this).

It leaves the reader with plenty to think about and a true sense of understanding what these young women went through in their very difficult move to another continent.
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on 18 April 2012
This deeply moving book summarizes the stories of thousands of Japanese girls and women sold by their poor families in the early 1900s to marry Japanese working in the US. Many suitors were not as young or successful as they claimed to be: most were farm workers, moving constantly to harvest.

JO cleverly edited a mountain of archival and oral data into chronological chapters: (1)`The sea voyage's opening sentence is "On the boat most of us were virgins". (2)`First night` opens with "Our new husbands took us quickly", (3)`Whites' deals with coping in the USA; (4)`Babies' with mothering while working in the fields or in another capacity, (5)`The children' with more of the same, but with the first generational conflicts emerging.

This makes up over half of this short 129-page book. It is arranged in chapters which read like litanies in hauntingly-repetitious sentences describing individual experience. On page 72, still in chapter 5, the book's focus shifts: "One by one all the old words we had taught them began to disappear from their heads. They forgot the names of the flowers in Japanese. They forgot the names of the colors". And so on.

A few more chapters follow, because the 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor destroyed the lives of Japanese living along the US West Coast. It began with curfews and travel restrictions. Next came deportations of men, then women and children further inland, to the Rocky Mountain states, to incapacitate the internal enemy to use flashlights to guide Japanese invaders onshore, poison reservoirs, food, or whatever... Of course their fate was not as fatal as in a far bigger campaign in Europe. The Japanese-Americans survived their incarceration. One unanswered question remains: how did they fare once released, trying to reclaim their properties?
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VINE VOICEon 7 August 2013
I quite understand why this book is not popular with some readers. It is not a cohesive story, does not concentrate on one or two characters and is almost certainly non-fiction.

However, I found it wonderful! The flow of the story, told by a great many women, is exciting, frightening, fun and humorous all at the same time. The women's stories are all different yet all report almost identically similar experiences and report with widely diverging attitudes.

It was like reading poetry - I was completely involved. I would have liked to have known what happened next, though.
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on 2 September 2012
Perhaps this was one of those writing class exercises that just went a bit wrong. It isn't a novel. The author uses a shotgun of experiences, made-up characters and a wealth of places rather than develop characters for which the reader could have some empathy. As many others have said, it reads like a laundry list that covers every potential situation in every possible context. It is lazy and unengaging.

If it had been positioned as a prose poem would it be more successful? Well I probably wouldn't have read it but I still think it would appear as lazy and poorly structured. I stayed through to the end because I had hoped that the inexorable stagger towards the injustices metered against those of Japanese Ancestry would finally reveal something of emotional resonance, insight, or even literal artistry. Instead Otsuka suddenly flips protangonist and without explanation the "several of us" that had introduced every new Japanese experience in the previous 110 pages now referred to the American's "left behind" - as if they were ever to leave. Even worse, the book becomes instantly racist, deriding the "negroes" and "Arkies" who came to take their place as infinitely worse than the "quiet Japanese" who had in their time been similarly shunned.

The sleeve notes refer to a story about identity and loyalty but none of those themes are really explored in the book. They came, they struggled and were second class citizens, some died, they were shunned and carted away. And in the end no-one cared and no-one remembered. A fitting epitaph for this book.
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on 21 January 2013
I found this book fascinating and I expect the facts about the Japanese imigrants would describe the experiences of many imigrant populations throughout the world and throughout time. However, for me it never really got going. The way it was written was great for an introduction but not for a whole book. I wanted it to find a particular person so that I could have a relationship with a character, we didn't actually meet any of the people and therefore didn't mind when they died or even particularly when they were hidden away at the outbreak of war. They were so anonymous. Perhaps this is what the author wanted us to feel and perhaps this is what the Japanese were like to the americans. I don't know but I found it interesting but unfulfilling.
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on 22 February 2012
I think your enjoyment of this book will be determined in part by whether you already have an interest in the issues it covers. The book is quite short and it is poetic too, with a structure which is followed through the whole book based on individual and group experiences of being Japanese picture brides. Contrary to what might be heard the book is about Japanese who went to marry other Japanese in the states.

It is an enjoyable read from the perspective of someone interested in experiences of Japanese people and recent modern history. If you want a good story then this isn't really a novel, but it does bring into mind the number of issues and concerns for this group of people...
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on 16 August 2015
The prose is unlike anything I have read before being almost entirely written in the 3rd person plural. There is no main character but you get the sense and feeling of how these Japaneses women lived.
The book leads up to an event in American History during WW2 about which I knew nothing but now will read further on the subject.
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