Friday, February 1, 2013

The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka

On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. 

The Buddha in the Attic had an interesting premise, but for me, fell somewhat flat. "A gorgeous novel by the celebrated author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times."

I love historical fiction, so this book sounded perfect for me, but some parts of it were really annoying, and others were...well...boring. The whole book is narrated from the plural first person, characterizing the picture brides as a whole. Each of their individual experiences in each section are catalogued by one or two sentences. I think the idea was to create a "universal" novel, but it didn't really work. For example, in the first section, the majority of the sentences begin with "some of us" this or "some of us" that. Or something like that.

And the stories themselves were kind of uninteresting. They certainly didn't offer a fresh perspective on anything, and I didn't feel myself compelled to learn more, or even read any more books about this period, even though historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. 

I picked this one up on the basis that people who bought The Tiger's Wife (one of my favorite books) on Amazon also bought The Buddha in the Attic. But the books are nothing alike in terms of their writing and overall plot, and it just goes to show that you can't trust Amazon and its recommendations.

Some of the writing is okay, but there is no actual plot. Just, as I said, cataloguing of experiences. Some of books that don't have much of a moving plot (like The Tiger's Wife, for that matter) are better because of it. This is not one of them. Skip this book, and read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I need to reread that one too.

Read The Buddha in the Attic:
  • if you like Julie Otsuka (she's written one other novel)
  • if you like historical fiction
129 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

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