Hugo Brehme, Susan Toomey Frost
The Buddha in the Attic
several weeks back, right before the announcement of the National Book Awards, as it was a well-deserved finalist for that prize. Julie Otsuka has managed to capture the stories of a whole generation of Japanese women in an amazingly short 120 page novella. This book is a marvel.
Starting at the turn of the century and continuing to the advent of World War II, Otsuka tells the story of the women who came to the United States as mail-order brides for Japanese-American men. They were promised bankers, lawyers, doctors, and universally, a better life. These were widowed women, poor women, trampy women (Gianna), plain women, smart women, dumb women, girls, old maids--the whole range of female citizenry in the Empire. And they were sold a bill of goods. Upon arrival, they discovered that their husbands were miners, laborers, farmers, pickers. Still, they persevered and built strong foundations for their children.
Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic succeeds in accomplishing what few novels even attempt--telling a story about a group of people without narrowing to specific characters. Nonetheless, at the end the reader has an appreciation for individual struggles, and a further appreciation for this talented writer. I really believe that this book is one that everyone should read.