‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka
The story of a whole generation in less than 130 pages, difficult to believe, isn’t it? Yet, this book , all of eight chapters, covers the life saga of a group of Japanese mail order or picture brides as they were called. A group of young and some not so young women on a ship that is taking them to a land of promises and men they have seen only in pictures. They are confused, anxious, scared and most of all hopeful of escape from a life that would otherwise have been condemned to penury and boredom.
The narration is what catches you by the throat. There is no single protagonist, the whole story is told in first person plural, the collective and all encompassing ‘We’. Their life is divided into and completely told in about eight chapters, starting with their experiences in the ship, the first night with the husbands who are nowhere near to the picture that they had painted in their hearts, the whites around, their children, the masters and the mistresses and so on. Their story starts to end with the second world war, when anything even remotely Japanese is seen with suspicion and hatred and finally how even the smallest trace of a whole race fades into oblivion.
The strong punch that Julie Otsuka has packed into a small wine glass is so potent, you are left with a strong ache for almost each of the hundreds of characters that she tells us about. You can read the life story of a person in a single sentence,..
“One swore she would one day marry a preacher so she wouldn’t have to pick berries on Sundays. One wanted to save enough money to buy his own farm. …One wanted to plant a vineyard….One could not wait until the day she got off the ranch. One wanted to go to college even though no one she knew had ever left the town. ..One wanted something more but could not say exactly what it was. …One wanted her own room, with a lock on the door…One wanted to become an artist and live in a garret in Paris….One wanted to become a doctor…. One wanted to become a star. And even though we saw darkness coming we said nothing and let them dream on.”
Verdict : A poignant life tale, read it for the interesting narrative style and the sad, shocking story that it tells us.