The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: Review

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka


The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka follows a group of Japanese women who 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 photographs of their future husbands and beautifully penned letters give them any clues about their lives to come. They form lifelong bonds, fall in love, learn about sex and dream of the families they left behind during their journey. However, 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 the lies they have been told. The photographs they have are up to 20 years old. Some are not pictures of their husbands at all, and professionals in winning hearts have written the letters. The women’s new homes range from beds under the stars to sheds shared with livestock. Their first night as married women range from violent and brutal to educational and exciting.


Many of the women were brought over as extra hands to work in fields and harvest crops. Others become maids or are forced into the sex trade.


Over generations, the women have become educated and started their own businesses. Some are on the verge of being accepted into their community. Then the bombing of Pearl Harbour changes everything.



The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka Review


The Buddha in the Attic is a beautiful little masterpiece. The book is told from the perspective of a group, never from an individual. Although I wasn’t sure how this would work, after reading it, I cannot imagine it being as emotive any other way. It allows the author to explain a variety of experiences from a large number of people. There are so many little heartbreaking details from so many different lives; it would be hard to know where to start describing them. What comes across clearly is the overwhelming strength and dignity of these women in times of hardship. From giving birth out in the fields to quietly evacuating their American homes and businesses, they endure.


The Buddha in the Attic is a stunning book that 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.


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