The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka
Genre: Historical Fiction; Japan ; Culture
Summary: The Buddha in the Attic chronicled the lives of young Japanese women as they journeyed to America about a century ago.
Review: I’m a history nerd and Asia fascinates me, so when I read that The Buddha in the Attic was a combination of both, I was thrilled. While I thought this book was beautifully written, I didn’t care for it all that much.
First, the good: the writing itself. The language within this book was lyrical, lovely, and complex. Otsuka is a very talented writer, and her sentences were fluid and seemed effortless. Many of the thoughts she put to paper were insightful and poignant, and it was truly a delight to read her wonderfully crafted words.
My problem with this book lies with the story, or should I say, lack thereof. While the ideas presented were really thought provoking, it was hard to linger on them for very long because the narrative would switch to another person, usually in the very next sentence. It was very hard for me to keep track of what was going on, and impossible to get to know the characters. While I felt awful that the people depicted in the story faced such hardships, I wish I could’ve known them a bit more so I could have really felt what they were feeling. Perhaps that was the whole idea, though. Maybe the reader was only provided with a glimpse into each individual so when things really started going bad, it highlighted the fact that hardship happened to everyone, regardless of personality or past circumstances.
I also wish there would have been more of a story. The Buddha in the Attic seemed more like a string of thoughts rather than an actual narrative. They were wonderfully written, astute thoughts, but thoughts nonetheless. I really wish this would have been told from the perspective of just a few characters with very different circumstances, because I think I would have enjoyed it more.
If you’re looking for an extremely well-written overview of what new Japanese immigrants experienced in the United States about a century ago, you may enjoy The Buddha in the Attic.