The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka


General FictionThe Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the AtticJulie Otsuka; Alfred A. Knopf 2011WorldCatIn the early 1900’s young Japanese women left their home and sailed to America as “picture brides” for Japanese husbands. They had corresponded by mail with their new husbands and were now coming to new, better promised lives. Once they arrive in California, they learn the truth. Some came and found the circumstances promised. Most came to lives that were hard work, sometimes slavery.

Julie Otsuka divides their lives into sections and tells many of the women’s stories at once. No one woman is highlighted. Instead, this book is told in a plural first person voice.

Home was a cot in one of their bunkhouses at the Fair Ranch in Yolo. Home was a long tent beneath a leafy plum tree at Kattleman’s. Home was a wooden shanty in Camp No.7 on the Barnhart Tract out in Lodi. Nothing but rows of onion as far as the eye can see. Home was a bed of straw in John Lyman’s barn alongside his prize horses and cows. Home was…

We waited tables seven days a week at our husbands’ lunch counters and noodle shops, where we knew all the regulars by heart…We cleaned the rooms of our husbands’ cheap boarding houses, and twice a day we cooked meals for their guests, who looked just like ourselves. We bought our groceries at Fujioka Grocery, where they sold all the things we remembered from home…

Otsuka starts with the journey on the boat crossing the ocean. We read about the women’s hopes, dreams, memories, and reality on the ship. The book moves into their first night with their new husbands. Next we read about their new lives and interacting with the white Americans. The book follows through with childbirth, children, the threat of war, and finally, leaving for internment camps during World War II.

The Buddha in the Attic is not an easy book to contemplate. The novel is very easy to read, almost simplistic. But there is so much in the spare words. These women were immigrants who had never met their husbands before their wedding night, didn’t know the language, and had no skills. They were the cheap labor at the time – in the fields and in the homes. Often they were despised or ignored because of their nationality and appearance.

Currently the United States is dealing with an immigration problem – including illegal Mexicans. Yet this group is exploited for the same reason. As The Buddha in the Attic reminds us, this is an old problem. These people are the ones who moved around the California fields following harvests and being the cheap seasonal labor. These are the woman who worked in other women’s homes and cared for their children. As they were finally making homes and getting a little ahead, they were ostracized because of World War II.

As in her first book, When the Emperor Was Divine, Otsuka doesn’t draw any conclusions or preach any morals. She present history in a fictional form. It’s the reader’s responsibility to take The Buddha in the Attic from there.

Notice: Suggestive dialogue or situations

More books by Julie Otsuka

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