Monday, October 17, 2011
I discovered this spare, little novel in my mailbox the other afternoon. I started reading it while I sat on my front steps watching my children ride their bikes and scooters down the sidewalks (I'm loving this warm, fall weather).
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is compulsively readable. I really couldn't put it down, in spite of its unique and daring writing style. Otsuka doesn't just tell the story of one Japanese woman arriving on a boat to America as a mail-order bride. She simultaneously tells the stories of all the Japanese women arriving in America in the decades leading up to World War II. It is an interesting and mostly effective technique.
Most novels focus on a single or small group of characters. The reader comes to know and usually empathize with the characters. Novels are a powerful way to change perspective and thought processes. Perhaps they influence the reader to be more understanding of a certain group of people. They touch our hearts and open our minds--think beloved recent novels like The Help or A Thousand Splendid Suns. I don't believe someone can read a novel like this and not question their own perceptions and ideas at least a little.
In The Buddha in the Attic, Otsuka uses a very different style. She never focuses on a single woman. She doesn't give them names. They are like many of us see them--an immigrant group, indistinguishable from one another. Yet, at the same time, she tells their individual stories in America and then their common fate as the country rounds them up and sends them to internment camps during the war.
Spend an afternoon with The Buddha in the Attic. Let your heart be touched and your mind be opened.
**I received a complimentary copy of The Buddha in the Attic in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.