Book 53: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

I picked up The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka because of how much I loved another book of hers that I read earlier this year. That story of the Japanese-American experience with the Japanese Internment Camps of World War II was eye-opening, stunningly written, and emotional. I just knew The Buddha in the Attic wouldn’t let me down…and I was correct.

Otsuka did her research for this 129-page novel about picture brides, Japanese women whose passage to America were paid for by their new, neverbefore seen husbands. The women were sent pictures of handsome Japanese men, only to be greeted by men ten years older, much more worse for the wear, who needed field hands, who wanted help in their home, who wanted more of a right hand than a wife.

Otsuka wrote of specific details and feelings that only a primary source like a newspaper article, diary, or letter would have been able to convey. She didn’t waste time with statistics, and instead concentrated on the group’s sentiment of what they were enduring. And while each picture bride’s experience of life in America was different, they were all the same. Similar loves and similar worries. None were safe from the internment camps, and many admitted to feeling guilty yet relieved when someone else’s husband was taken away for questioning in the middle of the night. Some admitted to sending their children away, either back to Japan or somewhere else in the US for safe keeping. Rich or poor, rural or urban, these women endured much fear, anger, sadness, and pain.

This stunning novel is a quick read, but a worthwhile one. I will recommend this book to those – adults or teens – interested in US history or women’s history. It has a mature element – the author discusses the brides’ first night with their new husbands as well as the birthing experiences. Sometimes the scenes are raw, others loving. Reality, though, is not always a gentle read. This book is reality.

This is a stunning picture I took from a NYT article about Otsuka’s book and the experience of picture brides. Congressional committee members examine passports of Japanese picture brides at the immigration station of Angel Island, Calif., July 25, 1920:

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