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The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in The Attic - Julie Otsuka Although it was sometimes hard to read because the information kept coming at me in short, almost rhythmic bursts of thought, attacking my brain with bullets of information, it was actually an amazing read because after 129 pages, I not only felt that I knew about the history of the Japanese women who were lured to America by Japanese men who deceived them, but I also knew how they were treated on board the boats that brought them here, how they survived the journey, and how they were treated in America by other Japanese, by other immigrants and by Americans. In short, in so few pages, the author has done a monumental job of informing the reader about a scar on our past that cannot be erased.
The short sentences spoke volumes. I felt the power of the storyteller’s words; I occupied her thoughts. I understood the plight of the mail-order brides, experienced what they must endure and would continue to endure for the rest of their lives. Beautifully written, lyrical at times, with some rare moments of subtle wit, the mostly sad revelations come to life in short, simple sentences that were easy to grasp, and yet were filled with deep emotion. Sometimes, the seemingly random thoughts felt almost rambling, but they coalesced and presented an amazing final picture of what it was like for these women, now sentenced to a life in America, far different from what they had hoped for and expected.
I learned how the Japanese lived, what they dreamed, where they originally came from, what they hoped for, how old they were, how pure, how abused, how they bore their grief, their hardships, their exhaustion, their poverty, their small joys and their long working days. I watched them bear it all quietly, with dignity. They wrote letters home filled with news about a life of fantasy because they could never return to Japan. Their failure would bring shame to their families.
Although they raised their children strictly, in the ways of the old world, the children became more Americanized than Japanese; they became ashamed of their parents and their impoverished circumstances. They were unable to escape the financial failures of their lives.
Then came the war, and all that they worked for was suddenly meaningless. They were rounded up and quietly sent away to internment camps. Few questioned that rationale. The Japanese simply came and then went, and life went on as if they never were; they were not remembered. In so few pages, this amazing novel, tells it all. As it presents a sharp snapshot of their efforts and their history, we come to understand how nobly they suffered.
This brief book is a tale about love and hate, acceptance and prejudice, joy and sadness, hope and hopelessness, exceptional kindness and exceptional cruelty. It is about longing, disappointment, deception, exhaustion, treachery and ignorance. The final message may be that friends can become enemies, in a flash, and sympathizing with friends, who are now considered enemies, can make the sympathizer the enemy too. Fear is a dangerous and powerful weapon. It worked, and soon, all memory and traces of the Japanese in J-town were gone.
It is a heart wrenching story about naïve Japanese girls and women, who were led down the garden path, who came to America thinking they would find handsome, literate and successful husbands, only to find out the pictures of their spouses were old, and so too were the men. The letters were written by professionals with the intent to deceive them and convince them to come, but this was not the fairy tale they hoped for and they were not all going to be happy. Their lives were going to be filled with struggle and hardship, but they were proud and noble and quietly accepted their nightmare and not their dream.