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The Buddha in the Attic [Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Julie Otsuka , Samantha Quan , Carrington MacDuffie
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 23 2011
Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award

Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine (“To watch Emperor catching on with teachers and students in vast numbers is to grasp what must have happened at the outset for novels like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird” —The New York Times) is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ nearly a century ago.

In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singularly spellbinding novel about the American dream. 

From the Hardcover edition.

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Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award in Fiction

Acclaim for Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic
“Poetic . . . Otsuka combines the tragic power of a Greek chorus with the intimacy of a confession. She conjures up the lost voices of a generation of Japanese American women without losing sight of the distinct experience of each. . . . An understated masterpiece . . . The distillation of a national tragedy that unfolds with great emotional power . . . The Buddha in the Attic seems destined to endure. —Jane Ciabattari, San Francisco Chronicle
“Otsuka’s incantatory style pulls her prose close to poetry.” —Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review
“A stunning feat of empathetic imagination and emotional compression, capturing the experience of thousands of women.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Spare and stunning . . . Otsuka has created a tableau as intricate as the pen stokes her humble immigrant girls learned to use in letters to loved ones they’d never see again.” —Celia McGee, O, The Oprah Magazine
“A lithe stunner.” —Lisa Shea, Elle
“Haunting and intimate . . . Otsuka extracts the grace and strength at the core of immigrant (and female) survival and, with exquisite care, makes us rethink the heartbreak of eternal hope.” —Susanna Sonnenberg, More
“Otsuka’s book has become emblematic of the brides themselves: slender and serene on the outside, tough, weathered and full of secrets on the inside.” —Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Otsuka masterfully creates a chorus of unforgettable voices that echo throughout the chambers of this slim but commanding novel, speaking of a time that no American should ever forget.” —Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis StarTribune
“The novel comprises a gorgeous mosaic of the hopes and dreams that propelled so many immigrants across an ocean to an unknown country. The author, Julie Otsuka, illuminates the challenges, suffering and occasional joy that they found in their new homeland. . . . A social history of the Japanese immigrant experience wrought in exquisite poetry, each sentence spare in words, precise in meaning and eloquently evocative, like a tanka poem, this book is a rare unique treat.” —Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Book Review
“An amazing, wonderful book that will surprise and delight you. . . . Otsuka keeps the language sparse yet evocative, her Hemmingway-like descriptions of scenery and events are lyric and transfixing. . . . Once you engage with this book, it won’t let you leave it, not until you enjoy the last word in the last sentence.” —Greg Langly, Baton Rouge Advocate.
“A delicate, heartbreaking portrait . . . beautifully rendered . . . Otsuka’s prose is precise and rich with imagery. Readers will be . . . hopelessly engaged and will finish this exceptional book profoundly moved.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An incantatory and haunting group portrait . . . Drawing on extensive research and profoundly identifying with her characters, Otsuka crafts an intricately detailed folding screen depicting nearly five decades of change as the women painstakingly build meaningful lives, only to lose everything after Pearl Harbor. This lyrically distilled and caustically ironic story of exile, effort, and hate is entrancing, appalling, and heartbreakingly beautiful.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“A luminous second novel . . . Otsuka works an enchantment upon her readers . . . and leaves us haunted and astonished at the powers of her subtlety and charms. . . . Unforgettable.” —Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal (starred review)
“A lovely prose poem that gives a bitter history lesson.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Daring . . . Mesmerizing . . . Otsuka has the moves of a cinematographer . . . A master of understatement and apt detail.” —Laura Reynolds Adler, Bookpage
“Julie Otsuka paints and sculpts elegant and vivid art with a pencil and words. . . . Succinct and stylish.” —Tony Sauro, Stockton Record

“Daring as well as formally unique…spare, precise, and often pitch perfect.” –Women’s Review of Books

One of Philadelphia Inquirer’s 2011 Staff Favorites
One of San Francisco Chronicle’s Best of 2011—100 Recommended Books
One of Chicago Tribune’s top picks from 2011
One of Library Journal’s Top Ten from 2011

Acclaim for Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine
“[A] crystalline debut novel. . . . [Otsuka has] lyric gifts and narrative poise, her heat-seeking eye for detail, her effortless ability to empathize with her characters. . . . [A] resonant and beautifully nuanced achievement.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Exceptional. . . . Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign. . . . [Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book’s greatest strength.” —The New Yorker
“Spare, incisive. . . . The mood of the novel tensely reflects the protagonists’ emotional state: calm surfaces above, turmoil just beneath.” —Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe
“[A] gentle, understated novel. . . . A story that has more power than any other I have read about this time.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times
“With her gift for compression and her feel for a child’s-eye view of disrupted family life, Otsuka neatly sidesteps any checklist predictability as she covers her ground. . . . While you’re reading this accomplished novel, what impresses you most is how much Otsuka is able to convey—in a line, in a paragraph—about her characters’ surroundings, about their states of mind and about the mood of our country at a time of crisis.” —Michael Upchurch, The New York Times Book Review
“A beautiful little book. . . . Otsuka’s writing is accomplished, absorbing and tight. Her spare prose is complemented by precise details, vivid characterization and a refusal to either flinch at or sentimentalize.” —Kate Washington, San Francisco Chronicle
“An exceptional short novel. . . . A story that is elegiac and representative. . . . When the Emperor Was Divine carves out its own special place in style and substance. The book is shaped like a parable: Short, unadorned sentences say less while signifying more. . . . Stunning economy. . . . An exceptional piece of fiction.” —Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Chicago Tribune
“Prose so cool and precise that it’s impossible not to believe what [Otsuka] tells us or to see clearly what she wants us to see. . . . A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn.” —Ann Stephenson, USA Today
“With a matter-of-fact brilliance, and a poise as prominent in the protagonist as it is in the writing, When the Emperor Was Divine is a novel about loyalty, about identity, and about being other in America during uncertain times.”
—Nathan Englander, author of The Ministry of Special Cases
“Shockingly brilliant. . . . It will make you gasp. . . . Undoubtedly one of the most effective, memorable books to deal with the internment crisis. . . . The maturity of Otsuka’s . . . prose is astonishing.” —Terry Hong, The Bloomsbury Review
“Potent, spare, crystalline—Julie Otsuka’s new novel is an exquisite debut. The novel’s voice is as hushed as a whisper.”
—Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine
“A timely examination of mass hysteria in troubled times. . . .Otsuka combines interesting facts and tragic emotions with a steady, pragmatic hand.” —The Oregonian
“At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental.”
—Mindi Dickstein, St. Petersburg Times
“Her voice never falters, equally adept at capturing horrific necessity and accidental beauty. Her unsung prisoners of war contend with multiple front lines, and enemies who wear the faces of neighbors and friends. It only takes a few pages to join their cause, but by the time you finish this exceptional debut, you will recognize that their struggle has always been yours.” —Colson Whitehead, author of John Henry Days
“Heartbreaking. . . . A crystalline account.”
—John Marshall, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer 

“Heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental. . . .rais[es] the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion. . . . The novel’s honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power. . . . Dazzling.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Otsuka . . . demonstrates a breathtaking restraint and delicacy throughout this supple and devastating first novel. . . .  [She] universalizes their experience of prejudice and disenfranchisement, creating a veritable poetics of stoicism.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Spare yet poignant. . . . clear, elegant prose.” —Reba L...

About the Author

Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. She is the author of the novel, When the Emperor was Divine, and a recipient of the Asian American Literary Award, the American Library Association Alex Award, and a Guggenheim fellowship. She lives in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Novel May 1 2012
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Story Description:

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
National Book Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
A New York Time Notable Book

A gorgeous novel by the celebrated author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as "picture brides" nearly a century ago. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.

My Review:

A group of young women from Japan are on a boat headed for San Francisco to meet their new husbands. They are picture brides, arranged marriages by a matchmaker Little did they know that the photo's they had been sent in Japan were 20 years old and the beautifully written letters they received from their new "American husbands" weren't from them at all. They were from people hired to write the letters that were full of promises but all lies. The men were not teachers, bankers and other career men but instead simple roaming farm hands.

The first night they were met at the boat, their new husbands walked them gently and carefully until under the cover of darkness in hotel rooms were the sexual contact was rough, painful, and indecent. Their hopes and dreams for a better life in America were soon dashed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a pearl of a book Jan. 27 2014
By Ami
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book tells a story and fate of a very special group of people who came to the US in the early 1900.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Buddha in the Attic Sept. 23 2013
By Kirti
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is a novel. I have just started reading it. It seems quite interesting it. It is a story of Japanese mail brides coming to join their husbands in America.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts On The Buddha In The Attic. June 8 2013
This book was a surprise for me in many ways. Firstly, like many of my reads this year, it was not something I would have chosen for myself, however being the Book Club’s choice for June, I opted to read it and see where it took me, and I am happy to report that I found a rare gem of a book that will be making a permanent home on my bookshelf on my next trip to the local bookstore. The larger surprises for me were the style of writing the author made use of and the story itself.

The writing did not follow any format that I had experienced previous to opening the cover of this book, it is told in the first person plural and does not offer the reader a main character, or a specific story to follow, and I admit a few pages in I was admittedly confused as to where this book was heading, mainly as it seemed to be lacking the main character to which I normally attach…

A few pages later I began to see that the “main character” is the “we” of the book, and once adjusted to the style and layout of the story, the “we“ caught my interest and the tale of these young women from Japan began to unfold The writing is poetic (though not poetry) in places but also very straightforward, if perhaps a bit formal, yet really leaves little to the imagination. When reading the section titled “First Night” for example, I was struck by Otsuka’s ability to tell the “taking” of these young women by their husbands in a straightforward and very honest way, without any of the romantic fanciful words you‘d expect, but just straightforward, this is what happened, language.…

"That night our new husbands took us quickly. They took us calmly. The took us gently, but firmly and without saying a word….They took us flat on our backs on the bare floor of the Minute Motel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  619 reviews
221 of 239 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite, illuminating, surprising Aug. 25 2011
By Susanna Sonnenberg - Published on
Julie Otsuka works magic, inventing an unwavering plural voice to illuminate the hidden experience of second-class women, Japanese mail-order brides in 1920s California. The device seems too ambitious at first but quickly yields a textured atmosphere, a sort of immense and important existence unlike anything you've ever read. Then you can't stop reading, greedily absorbing her every precise and haunting observation. And don't be fooled: Otsuka is as fierce and desperate a commentator on America's paradoxes and cruelties as the best of them.
97 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning. Aug. 29 2011
By Bookbird - Published on
Format:Audio CD
Two recent issues of "Granta, The Magazine of New Writing" featured chapters of Julie Otsuka's forthcoming novel "The Buddha in the Attic." The first chapter, featured in Granta 114, and titled "Come, Japanese!" left me completely floored and I had to pause and think quite some time before continuing with the rest of the issue. The style of writing in the third person was extremely effective in my opinion. The subject matter was so intense, and so ultimately sad, unjust and horrifying, that a less dispassionate style of telling this story would have rendered it sensationalist. It is powerful enough to just "list the facts." Once one "gets" what is being told in the stories of these very different Japanese women with a common future, you hurt for them and wish retroactively, that you could have done anything to make some of their lives better. Then in the most recent issue of Granta (115) I was thrilled another chapter of Ms. Otsuka's forthcoming book had been featured: "The Children". Same effect. I had already determined to purchase this book, or several copies as soon as it was published, after reading the first excerpt. I am not a reviewer, but am a reader of serious literature and a human rights activist and advocate. I loved this book. It is part of American history. The writing is spectacular.
215 of 247 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Group - Collective Voice Oct. 2 2011
By Julie Carpenter - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
We are a book group of 12 and have been together for 12 years. We are mothers and wives. Some work - some don't. We gather once a month to talk about the book, but mostly talk about our kids. We are like most women in most book groups - opinionated, sometimes intellectual, sometimes irreverent. We always have fun. We are good friends.

This is our first official book review. We chose "Buddha" before it was released - it was not yet on any top ten or top 100 list, bucket list, or best-seller list - lists we often choose from. There were no reviews. We entered our reading with no pre-existing sway. Some loved "Buddha" - others not so much. The book provoked great debate. It was a book we actually discussed at length. Together we share, in a less-than-perfect attempt at "collective voice":

The happy hausfrau cum MSW, LCSW loved this work of poetry. "The form punched the story beautifully: basic humanity crumbles in the face of fear, war sucks, three pages of rape is a drop in ocean of what women have suffered in and out war time. Each paragraph (stanza?) told a hundred stories. This one small book told volumes of tales in plain, rhythmic language; like the breath and beating hearts of each individual she describes, but collectively! And what about the title of the book? And the single sentence in the text that refers to it?? Is the Buddha just a little piece of identity hidden but preserved, watching over the house? Or a representation "self/spirt" hidden away, denied, stifled in the dusty attic with with other ghosts? Identity and self quietly preserved and celebrated? Or a God demoted, obsolete and even dangerous to recognize in a new land?" 4 Stars

The marketing consultant couldn't get past page pp. 19 to 21 and tried three times. "The book lacked character development." 1 Star

One rockin' housewife found the book to be stylistically superior in its deviation from a traditional narrative form. "Through her use of first person plural the author captures `a people' rather than individual characters; she powerfully and effectively illustrates the Japanese migration to America culminating in the war's effect on the culture. Otsuka's stylistic use of contrary statements creates a denser, richer and ultimately cleaner and more concise work." 5 Stars

Une femme de moyenne age thought that the book failed to connect with the reader in a meaningful emotional way due to the use of the multiple character list format. "At the beginning of the book the novelty of this writing device seemed interesting but by the end of the book it seemed like it was a grocery list of people and activities that served to minimize, instead of enhance, the development of empathy and understanding with the characters. I simply lost interest in reading the lists." 1 Star

The diabetes doctor, chocolate loving mother thought the book an exquisite piece of prose that effectively described the collective experience of female Japanese immigrants in the U.S. "The book described the hopes and dreams and illuminated the suffering, challenges and sometimes the happiness they discover in their new homeland."5 Stars

The desperate housewife found the book piquing her interest in the first chapter. "The varied snippets of the many Japanese wives' thoughts set the stage for what promised to be an interesting book. Little did I realize that the author's use of multiple voices would go on (and on and on . . .) throughout the book. I soon found myself losing interest and becoming frustrated at not knowing even one person's entire story. The promise of the first chapter never came to fruition -- disappointing." 1 Star

One member, an avid reader and former expatriate, found the narrative quite compelling. "I likened the style of prose to a conversation between friends, or documentation of an oral history project." 4 Stars

The crazy professor, but mostly sane mother said: "The book was composed of many quick and beautiful brush strokes that painted a picture of Japanese women's experiences as they tried to navigate a new life during a very difficult time in US history; however, I yearned for the author to slow down and depict the events more purposefully and with greater detail."
1 Star

The teacher of many found the book to be very thought provoking and relevant. "The multiple nameless characters brought home the sheer magnitude of the injustices endured by this entire community. I also found the historical parallels interesting. Buddha in the Attic reminds us that fear and ignorance have spurred the mistreatment of entire races and cultural groups throughout history, and it is sadly still happening in modern day America. Many important reminders and lessons in this book." 4 Stars

The cynical realist said that at the risk of being skewered by the aforementioned intellectuals; found this book to be an enjoyable read despite the serious subject matter. "Though it is narrated in an atypical style, I found the snippets of many nameless people's lives provided a collective glimpse into one of our nation's `dirty little secrets'. The book is easy to read whether you do it in a few minutes at a time or in one sitting. At completion, this beautiful little book also looks lovely on a coffee table!" 4 Stars

The multi-tasking mom thought the book started out very enjoyable and is poetically written, but after a few chapters became boring and annoying. "Everything was `listed' and nothing had any depth. I would have rather followed the lives of 5 women instead of 50 stories never followed through. At least the author kept the story short because with any more pages I don't think I would have finished it." 1.5 Stars

The one who recommended the book, and main-stream-reader in the group had hoped her recommendation would be a good read for all but because of the non-traditional literary style, worried about the group's response. "I thought the subject matter might make the book a `page-turner' but as I made my way through the first chapter, quickly determined that the writing would lend to a discussion more on style and less on content. Though I too, struggled with the `lists', I appreciated the author's research efforts and respect her daring experimentation in style. I believe that in the end, Otsuka's choice to write in a collective voice imparted an eloquence and poignancy in her story telling. I was thrilled that the book provided our group a vibrant discussion." 3.5 Stars
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "STUNNING, INTENSE AND HAUNTING!" Sept. 1 2011
By Geraldine Ahearn - Published on
Julie Otsuka takes the reader on a dramatic, heartfelt roller-coaster ride through California in the 1920's, as she becomes a Master storyteller about the lives of Japanese women, and the symbolic definition of mail-order brides. The horrifying experience about individual lives, during a difficult time in history becomes emotional page-after-page. This book is highly recommended for all American history lovers, and all those in favor of women's rights. The intense suspense in the stories, combined with the trauma these women endured becomes more powerful as we continue to read on. The setting fits like a glove, the characters come to life, and the stories are deeply moving. This book is beautifully written, and will leave a lasting impression upon all those who read it.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Book of Lists Sept. 24 2011
By Book Woman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
; I was very disappointed with the format and voice of the book; first person plural. This was a book of lists. telling the story of Japanese women who came to the USA in the early 1900's. The format was so redundant I ended up skimming a lot of the material. This would have had much more appeal if the author had followed the journeys of several women and the families they raised.
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