Last year I read “When The Emperor Was Divine” and loved it. The book was the literary equivalent of a butterfly. The language had the feeling of lightness and flow, even though the subjects were heavy.
The Buddha in the Attic feels like the prequel to When The Emperor Was Divine, following a group of Japanese who come to the US to be brides to recent Japanese immigrants.
Similar to WTEWD, the characters don’t have names, though this time the author goes further, telling the story with a multitude of unnamed voices. Otsuka often uses ‘we’ as the combined voices of these women.
Their experiences are heart-wrenching. From their hopes as they come over on the boat, clutching the romantic letters and pictures of their handsome husbands-to-be, to the horrible realities of their first night on US soil, to the unfolding of their (mostly) difficult lives in the US. All with the looming cloud of knowing that the Second World War is coming and that all these women eventually build in the US is going to disappear due to situations beyond their control.
Even though the subject is heavy and sad, Otsuka again creates a book with a feeling of lightness. There is no covering up the harshness of the lives of the women, but the stories are told with a forthrightness that makes it hard to turn away.
My one criticism is that the literary devise of narrating in the ‘we’ made the book feel like it was the introduction to a book and that the real story was going to start soon. I also found the switch at the end to the narration coming from the other women in the town was jarring, which I think was intentional. The Japanese women disappeared as if they had never been there.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I really admire Otsuka’s writing.