Fiction

Review GPA: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Publication Date: August 23, 2011

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Knopf

Publisher’s Synopsis:
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.

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Alida Becker, in The New York Times:

Gold Star AND Demerit:

Otsuka’s novel is filled with evocative descriptive sketches (farm women with their children sleeping “like puppies, on wooden boards covered with hay”) and hesitantly revelatory confessions (domestic servants who “felt, for once, like ourselves” when “the whole house was empty. Quiet. Ours.”), so it’s disappointing suddenly to lose that connection — to find, at the close, that the narrative “we” has shifted to the Americans, who remark on the wartime “disappearance” of Japanese neighbors and employees. Disingenuous (“the Japanese have left us willingly, we are told, and without rancor”), even platitudinous (“after a while we notice ourselves speaking of them more and more in the past tense”), this complacent voice is presumably meant to provide a stark contrast with the vigilant, uneasy perceptions that have preceded it. But Otsuka has succeeded too well in drawing us into the precarious lives of her Japanese wives and mothers. We have no patience with these smug, anonymous overlords. We want to follow the women whose names have been chanted out as they’re torn from their new lives

Grade: A-

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Ron Charles, in The Washington Post

Gold Star:

“…the book’s plural voice is particularly effective at capturing their long, giddy conversations on the ship as they wonder if American men really grow hair on their chests, put ­pianos in their front parlors and dance “cheek to cheek all night long” with their lucky wives.”

Demerit:

But no story in the conventional sense ever develops, and no individuals emerge for more than a paragraph.

Grade: B-

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Elizabeth Day, in The Guardian 

Gold Star:

“This is a small jewel of a book, its planes cut precisely to catch the light so that the sentences shimmer in your mind long after turning the final page.”

Demerit:

None. 

Grade: A

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Edward Nawotka, in The Dallas Morning News

Gold Star:

“…a novel as perfectly manicured and beautiful as a bonsai tree”

Demerit:

None.

Grade: A

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Jane Ciabattari, in The San Francisco Chronicle

Gold Star

“The Buddha in the Attic” is an understated masterpiece about our treatment of the “other,” the distillation of a national tragedy that unfolds with great emotional power.”

Demerit

None.

Grade: A

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Review GPA: 3.68 (A-/A)