The Buddha in the Attic

By Julie Otsuka

Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: N/A

Entertainment value: ⭐⭐
My recommendation: This book is less like a novel than an epic poem, its layer upon layer of luscious details shining light on every facet of the immigrant experience, mostly through the eyes of the Japanese women who came as “picture brides” to carve out a new life in America.

I expected this to be a book of short stories, but instead it’s an almost stream-of-consciousness flow of gorgeous details, pulled from the real experiences of countless immigrants and woven into a complex tale of how and why they left their families in Japan and built new lives in America. Presented without judgment or commentary, these details explore every aspect of immigrant life: servitude and freedom, undeserved cruelty and unexpected kindness, the prejudice they suffered and the ones they held themselves. How they feared, hoped, loved, hated, worked, bore children, raised them, lost them, made it through each day, and eventually died.

Without a single character or hint of a plot, The Buddha in the Attic still manages to tell a detailed and compelling story of an entire immigrant wave, portraying the inner Japanese attitudes and reactions to the situations they were thrust into with a clarity found in few other pieces of literature. Through the eyes of many, we get a picture of the world they found themselves in, and how they adapted to survive and eventually thrive.

Because this book didn’t have the intriguing plot and sympathetic characters that usually hook me into a story, I didn’t think I’d finish it, much less like it. But oddly, it kind of grew on me, and the skill with which the author builds each layer upon the last builds a deep undertanding of the Japanese in America. Their intertwined experiences reveal triumphs and disappointments that are both uniquely Japanese and universally human.

You can get it right now from your favorite bookseller, or check out the Mar-Apr Japanagram to see if you won a copy! All subscribers are automatically entered to win—if you’re not among them yet, click this button to subscribe, and be automatically signed up to enter.

How I pick the book giveaway winners: On the last day of each month, I load all the email addresses of Japanagram subscribers into a random name picker on the Web and ask it to choose subscribers to match however many books I’m giving away that month. Then I publish the emails in the next day’s Japanagram (all emails obscured in a way so only the subscriber will be able to recognize it as their own, of course!)

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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