This short but poignant novel explores the experience of Japanese “picture brides” in the United States. The Buddha in the Attic follows the experiences of these young women from their emigration from Japan, through their life in America, until their forced resettlement in internment camps after the start of World War II.
Author Julie Otsuka manages, in a very small space, to convey the desperation so many of these young women felt. They left Japan because their options there were so limited. They travelled by ship in steerage to meet their husbands in San Francisco. None of the husbands were as young or handsome as their photos, and none as prosperous as they had claimed. Most were farm hands or gardeners.
The brides struggled to learn English and to adapt to American ways. They worked as hard as their husbands-on the farms and in the homes of Americans. They bore children, often times alone and in the fields. Their children became Americans, but most of the women never truly adapted. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the internment of all Americans of Japanese ancestry. The families abandoned homes and possessions, and relocated for the duration of the war.
Otsuka comes from a family of internees, and she clearly conveys the sadness and desperation of those times. The only tiny quibble I have with the book is that the style does become repetitious, so I was only able to read it in short stretches. But it tells an important story that, for the most part, is rarely discussed anymore.
Published in hardcover-Knopf-2011