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The Buddha in the Attic [Hardcover]

Julie Otsuka
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Review

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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Come, Japanese!

On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we'd been wearing for years-faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and redyed many times. Some of us came from the mountains, and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiancé, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on.

On the boat the first thing we did-before deciding who we liked and didn't like, before telling each other which one of the islands we were from, and why we were leaving, before even bothering to learn each other's names-was compare photographs of our husbands. They were handsome young men with dark eyes and full heads of hair and skin that was smooth and unblemished. Their chins were strong. Their posture, good. Their noses were straight and high. They looked like our brothers and fathers back home, only better dressed, in gray frock coats and fine Western three-piece suits. Some of them were standing on sidewalks in front of wooden A-frame houses with white picket fences and neatly mowed lawns, and some were leaning in driveways against Model T Fords. Some were sitting in studios on stiff high- backed chairs with their hands neatly folded and staring straight into the camera, as though they were ready to take on the world. All of them had promised to be there, waiting for us, in San Francisco, when we sailed into port.

On the boat, we often wondered: Would we like them? Would we love them? Would we recognize them from their pictures when we first saw them on the dock?

On the boat we slept down below, in steerage, where it was filthy and dim. Our beds were narrow metal racks stacked one on top of the other and our mattresses were hard and thin and darkened with the stains of other journeys, other lives. Our pillows were stuffed with dried wheat hulls. Scraps of food littered the passageways between berths and the floors were wet and slick. There was one porthole, and in the evening, after the hatch was closed, the darkness filled with whispers. Will it hurt? Bodies tossed and turned beneath the blankets. The sea rose and fell. The damp air stifled. At night we dreamed of our husbands. We dreamed of new wooden sandals and endless bolts of indigo silk and of living, one day, in a house with a chimney. We dreamed we were lovely and tall. We dreamed we were back in the rice paddies, which we had so desperately wanted to escape. The rice paddy dreams were always nightmares. We dreamed of our older and prettier sisters who had been sold to the geisha houses by our fathers so that the rest of us might eat, and when we woke we were gasping for air. For a second I thought I was her.

Our first few days on the boat we were seasick, and could not keep down our food, and had to make repeated trips to the railing. Some of us were so dizzy we could not even walk, and lay in our berths in a dull stupor, unable to remember our own names, not to mention those of our new husbands. Remind me one more time, I'm Mrs. Who? Some of us clutched our stomachs and prayed out loud to Kannon, the goddess of mercy-Where are you?-while others of us preferred to turn silently green. And often, in the middle of the night, we were jolted awake by a violent swell and for a brief moment we had no idea where we were, or why our beds would not stop moving, or why our hearts were pounding with such dread. Earthquake was the first thought that usually came to our minds. We reached out for our mothers then, in whose arms we had slept until the morning we left home. Were they sleeping now? Were they dreaming? Were they thinking of us night and day? Were they still walking three steps behind our fathers on the streets with their arms full of packages while our fathers carried nothing at all? Were they secretly envious of us for sailing away? Didn't I give you everything? Had they remembered to air out our old kimonos? Had they remembered to feed the cats? Had they made sure to tell us everything we needed to know? Hold your teacup with both hands, stay out of the sun, never say more than you have to.

Most of us on the boat were accomplished, and were sure we would make good wives. We knew how to cook and sew. We knew how to serve tea and arrange flowers and sit quietly on our flat wide feet for hours, saying absolutely nothing of substance at all. A girl must blend into a room: she must be present without appearing to exist. We knew how to behave at funerals, and how to write short, melancholy poems about the passing of autumn that were exactly seventeen syllables long. We knew how to pull weeds and chop kindling and haul water, and one of us-the rice miller's daughter-knew how to walk two miles into town with an eighty-pound sack of rice on her back without once breaking into a sweat. It's all in the way you breathe. Most of us had good manners, and were extremely polite, except for when we got mad and cursed like sailors. Most of us spoke like ladies most of the time, with our voices pitched high, and pretended to know much less than we did, and whenever we walked past the deckhands we made sure to take small, mincing steps with our toes turned properly in. Because how many times had our mothers told us: Walk like the city, not like the farm!

On the boat we crowded into each other's bunks every night and stayed up for hours discussing the unknown continent ahead of us. The people there were said to eat nothing but meat and their bodies were covered with hair (we were mostly Buddhist, and did not eat meat, and only had hair in the appropriate places). The trees were enormous. The plains were vast. The women were loud and tall-a full head taller, we had heard, than the tallest of our men. The language was ten times as difficult as our own and the customs were unfathomably strange. Books were read from back to front and soap was used in the bath. Noses were blown on dirty cloths that were stuffed back into pockets only to be taken out later and used again and again. The opposite of white was not red, but black. What would become of us, we wondered, in such an alien land? We imagined ourselves-an unusually small people armed only with our guidebooks-entering a country of giants. Would we be laughed at? Spat on? Or, worse yet, would we not be taken seriously at all? But even the most reluctant of us had to admit that it was better to marry a stranger in America than grow old with a farmer from the village. Because in America the women did not have to work in the fields and there was plenty of rice and firewood for all. And wherever you went the men held open the doors and tipped their hats and called out, "Ladies first" and "After you."

Some of us on the boat were from Kyoto, and were delicate and fair, and had lived our entire lives in darkened rooms at the back of the house. Some of us were from Nara, and prayed to our ancestors three times a day, and swore we could still hear the temple bells ringing. Some of us were farmers' daughters from Yamaguchi with thick wrists and broad shoulders who had never gone to bed after nine. Some of us were from a small mountain hamlet in Yamanashi and had only recently seen our first train. Some of us were from Tokyo, and had seen everything, and spoke beautiful Japanese, and did not mix much with any of the others. Many more of us were from Kagoshima and spoke in a thick southern dialect that those of us from Tokyo pretended we could not understand. Some of us were from Hokkaido, where it was snowy and cold, and would dream of that white landscape for years. Some of us were from Hiroshima, which would later explode, and were lucky to be on the boat at all though of course we did not then know it. The youngest of us was twelve, and from the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, and had not yet begun to bleed. My parents married me off for the betrothal money. The oldest of us was thirty-seven, and from Niigata, and had spent her entire life taking care of her invalid father, whose recent death made her both happy and sad. I knew I could only marry if he died. One of us was from Kumamoto, where there were no more eligible men-all of the eligible men had left the year before to find work in Manchuria-and felt fortunate to have found any kind of husband at all. I took one look at his photograph and told the matchmaker, "He'll do." One of us was from a silk-weaving village in Fukushima, and had lost her first husband to the flu, and her second to a younger and prettier woman who lived on the other side of the hill, and now she was sailing to America to marry her third. He's healthy, he doesn't drink, he doesn't gamble, that's all I needed to know. One of us was a former dancing girl from Nagoya who dressed beautifully, and had translucent white skin, and knew everything there was to know about men, and it was to her we turned every night with our questions. How long will it last? With the lamp lit or in the dark? Legs up or down? Eyes open or closed? What if I can't breathe? What if I get thirsty? What if he is too heavy? What if he is too big? What if he does not want me at all? "Men are really quite simple," she told us. And then she began to explain.

On the boat we sometimes lay awake for hours in the swaying damp darkness of the hold, filled with longing and dread, and wondered how we would last another three weeks.

On the boat we carried with us in our trunks all the things we would need for our new lives: white silk kimonos for our wedding night, colorful cotton kimonos for everyday wear, plain cotton kimonos for when we grew old, calligraphy brushes, thick blac...
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