The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka follows the journey of a group of Japanese women as they travel from Japan to America as picture brides in the early 1900s.
We first meet the group of women as they journey across the choppy seas, only with photographs of their future husbands and beautifully penned letters to give them any inkling of their lives to come. During this time they form lifelong bonds, fall in love, learn about sex and dream of the families they have left behind. But they all believe they are on their way to a better life, to marry high-class businessmen with their own homes that will bring honour to their families.
When they dock on the American shores for the first time, they instantly realise lies that have been told. The photographs they have maybe up to 20 years old, some are not of their husbands at all and the letters have been written by professionals in winning hearts. The women’s new homes range from beds under the stars to sheds shared with livestock. Their first night as married women ranges from the violent and brutal to educational and exciting.
Many of the women were simply brought over as extra hands to work in fields to harvest crops but others ended up becoming maids or even working in whore houses.
Over generations they have owned their own businesses, are becoming more educated and some are almost becoming accepted in their community but with the bombing of Pearl Harbour, everything changes.
This book is a beautiful little masterpiece. It is told from the perspective of a group and never from an individual and although I was not sure how this would work, after reading it, I cannot imagine it being as emotive any other way. It gives the author the ability to explain the variety and experiences of a large number of people across different areas. There are so many little heartbreaking details from so many different lives, it would be hard to know where to start describing them. What does come across overall is the overwhelming strength and dignity of these women (and later in the book their husbands also) in times of hardship. From giving birth out in the fields to quietly evacuating their American homes and businesses.
This stunning book is as heartbreaking and genuinely moving as it is inspiring. It certainly deserves all the accolades it is currently receiving and I hope it receives many more in the future.
If you like The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka you’ll love A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.