Friday, May 4, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic

Book Review

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Ostuka.

I had seen this book getting publicity.

I was curious.

But then I discovered the author had written a previous book, When the Emperor was Divine. I wasn't sure if I should be reading that first.

So I did read that first. Just to be safe.

Now, I'm back to wanting to read Ostuka's second book.

And read it, I did.

At least I stuck to my guns and read the first book first.

The Buddha in the Attic

This is another slim book about Japanese brides coming to meet their husbands in San Francisco shortly before World War II. We are given a glimpse of the wide variety in the results of these unions.

How they started. How they evolved. How they endured. How they ended.

Unfortunately, this book is not for kids or even teenagers, in my opinion. The first third of the book is unnecessarily focused on adult issues.

I am not usually keen on books that focus on adult issues.

But my dislike for this book goes far beyond adult issues. More than the first half of this book is populated with pronouns and no proper names. "They did this." "They did that." They. They. They. I've seen that word so many times now, that it is starting to look funny.

We are finally given some proper names late in the book. One name here. One name there. Some other name in the next sentence.

From beginning to end, we are never given characters to follow from start to finish. I am not a fan of this. This is too abstract for me to really get drawn into their lives. There are no "they" to follow. They are just the words "they".

How's that for abstract?

Basically, there are no characters in this story. It is more a collection of snippets of lives, gathered together according to time or stage of life.

"They" got on the boat. And many examples of what happened on the boat.

"They" arrived in America and met their husbands. And many examples of what kinds of husbands they were.

"They" tried to adjust to their new homes. And many examples of the different kinds of homes they might have had.

"They" had children, or not. And many examples of the different experiences they may have had with their children.

"They" were dealt evacuation orders. And many examples of the different ways evacuations were or were not handled.

This would have been a fabulous summary report for a high school history class studying the Japanese living in California leading up to when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

As a novel... it doesn't work for me.

On the up side, clearly the author knows her topic. She has done her research. She has gathered a wide variety of different experiences.

But that just makes for a great research paper.

Not a novel.

After enjoying While the Emperor was Divine, my expectations for this second book of Otsuka's were high. I was left disappointed.

If you are looking for a great, overall summary of experiences of these people of that time, this will fit the bill. If, instead, you are looking for a novel about characters with lives, you will have to look elsewhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome your thoughtful comments.