The Buddha in the Attic (Otsuka)

I admit it. I picked this book because of the sticker. Not the gold one that said Pen / Faulkner Award for Fiction, but the red one that said ‘Buy 2, Get the 3rd Free.’ I really wanted two other books on the table, and this filled out the order.

I forgot all about the other two the minute I started reading, or rather inhaling (I finished its 129 pages all in one day), this book.

This is the most stylistically powerful and purposeful book I’ve read since Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Otsuka’s bold choice to write the whole book (!) in first person plural was remarkably risky and it works wonderfully. You would think you wouldn’t be able to get an understanding of character that way, but you’d be wrong and you’d missing part of Otsuka’s point. This is the story of a group of women, Japanese women who took a boat from Japan to San Francisco to become “picture brides.” It is also the story, for Japanese internment and its impact on individuals and their families.

Otsuka makes one last stylistic choice in the last chapter, and it, too, is perfect.

This is now on my list of favorites. I can’t wait to read her earlier book, When the Emperor Was Divine.

Even the title is great. The image that it refers to will stay with me.


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