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Book: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka


To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries. ~A C Grayling

coverThis is the second book I have read by Julie Otsuka, the other being “When the Emperor was Divine”. Julie has a style of writing that is very descriptive, one that paints many, many images in fine detail, allowing one to create a great picture in the mind.

This book is, in a sense, a prequel to When the Emperor was Divine. The emperor follows a single, Japanese family during WWII when they were forced to leave their homes and live in US based prison camps for the remainder of the war. They were forced to spend the time in prison camps because they were perceived as a ‘threat to national security’, spies for the Japanese government. It was nothing more than prejudice against Japanese Americans  because similar camps for the Germans, who we were also at war with during the same period, never formed. This was definitely a low point for the history of the United States .

Buddha begins in the 1900s, when many Japanese left Japan to seek a better life in the United States, and ends at the point where the Emperor began. The Buddha is not about one family, it is about the collective written from the perspective of the many. It is a unique style that I found to be very easy to read, very informative, and emotionally challenging.

The central character is Japanese women, there is no one individual to follow from beginning to end, rather, we follow the thoughts of many women, all unnamed, as Julie talks about their lives from getting on the steamers in Japan to landing in the United States through their internment. They text is in linked narratives with some being a paragraph and others many pages. The women tell of their expectations at leaving home for America, their experiences upon landing, the disappointment that they were outcasts in the land of mile and honey where, instead of living like princesses they were worked hard as farmers and maids and laundry people and other menial jobs. The most heart wrenching of all the chapters is traitors where we read of how the United States government forced them out of the lives they had created with blood and toil.

I found both of these books to be great reads. I loved the details she includes in her narrations and the way she is able to evoke emotion in those details. I am looking forward to reading any of her future works.

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