[Review] “The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic is a unique book — there is no single perspective or central cast of characters. Instead, we get to experience the lives of Japanese mail-order brides from their ship voyages to America till the second World War and their experiences of internment. The prose is extremely lyrical, with gems like “And so we learned to think twice before saying yes and looking into another man’s eyes, because in America you got nothing for free.” Though I was apprehensive about the writing style (in the anonymised plural perspective) at first, it soon grew on me.

It’s clearly evident that Otsuka has done tremendous amounts of research, but we don’t really get to experience much of that in depth. The material in this book could’ve easily been a full-fledged historical saga running into several hundreds of pages. However, by adopting the plural perspective Otsuka describes in a sentence or two, experiences that would’ve occupied entire pages in more conventionally written books.

I enjoyed reading this book because it showed me a totally different writing style (and in some way reminded me of Anna Burn’s Milkman, which does have a central cast of characters, but does not describe any of them by name). A quick, engaging read.

Photo by Marvin Ronsdorf on Unsplash