The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka


How does one describe The Buddha In The Attic?  It is a narration of the collected voices of young women brought over from Japan to San Fransisco as brides nearly a century ago. 

The Buddha In The Attic traces their lives as they travel by boat (I wonder what it will be like to live in the states?), meet their husbands (he is not rich as I was believed he would be!), face uncertain futures (what will become of us?), becoming new wives (what does he expect of me?), working the fields (other men will not leave us alone), mastering a new language (do I pretend still not to understand?), child birth (what if my child is born under the wrong sign?) and eventually to war.

Japanese Brides, Buddha In The Attic
The year is 1920: 20,000 Japanese brides came to San Fransisco on boats to meet a man they only had a picture of to call their husband. In some cases, the picture they had and the man who sent for them were completely different.
This, is their story.

It really is hard to explain The Buddha In The Attic, which is really why prior to listening to this on audio… I still did not fully get what it was about even by the synopsis.  What I did know:

1.  The title made me want to know more

2.  The cover led me to think of things hiding, secrets of the unknown…

So here I am after listening to this short audio book (4 cd’s) and now kind of basking in the experience. 

The Buddha in the Attic as narrated by Samantha Quan and Carrington MacDuffie is told as a collective “we” and never an “I”.  There is no sole character.  In 8 chapters a different aspect of Japanese immigrant life is unfolded for us to view in the raw:

“Home was a bed of straw in John Lyman’s barn alongside his prize horses and cows. Home was a corner of the washhouse at Stockton’s Cannery Ranch. Home was a bunk in a rusty boxcar in Lompoc. Home was an old chicken coop in Willows that the Chinese had lived in before us. Home was a flea-ridden mattress in a corner of a packing shed in Dixon. Home was a bed of hay atop three apple crates beneath an apple tree.”

and so on… each chapter reading out like that, a description of their life in this new world and then told in 20 or more different ways.  Yes, at first it was a little hard to follow, my bookish mind kept waiting for the story, but the sharing of information, IS the story. And as this went on, from having children, to losing children, to what they did with the children, and so on….

I found a rhythm. 

It is safe to say this is poetry.

It is raw.  It is real.  At times it is painful.  At times it will make you mad. In the end… I find that I am better for having listened to it and I an appreciate the collective whole. 

No I would not seek out this style of writing, but a sampling of it like I just had is good.  I am glad I listened to it over reading it.  The narration is beautiful, the words, and the undertones, I thought were brilliantly read. 

Side note:  It is interesting that I am also listening to Shanghai Girls at this time and the stories and time frames are similar.

Here are a few other reviews from great bloggers:


Fizzy Thoughts

Take Me Away Reading

Reading On A Rainy Day

Amazon Rating

Goodreads Review

Borrowed from my library!

24 thoughts on “The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka

  1. I’ve read a few reviews of this one and I like the idea of listening to it, especially as I’m on a bit of an audio binge right now!

  2. I agree I wouldn’t seek out the style of writing necessarily, but I liked it well enough for the length of this book. I thought this book was so well done.

  3. First, what a great new look Sheila! I love the colors. It’s great on the eyes.

    The Buddha in the Attic is easily one of my favorite books of 2011. I love the “we” of it.

    1. Thank you. I am still letting it grow on me… LOL…. I am not so fond of the pink but it is standard with this theme and the comment space is so different then what I am used to with the smaller middle box. 😀

      So glad you loved this one… the “we” was pretty brilliant for writing it that way.

  4. I added this to my Wishlist after reading Aths review which you posted. I really want to try it and am happy that it is a short book in order to experience the style and story.

    I think the ‘we’ can become repetitive but I think/hope it drives the point.

  5. I recently finished this one on audio too. I liked the collective :we” point of view that the story is told from, but found it was getting a bit repetitive at the end. Stlll, I really did like it.

  6. It does sound for me typical of proposed marriages of years gone by. You had nothing to go by other than a photograph and if you were lucky maybe a chance look at someone in a temple/church – no talking allowed. This would have been only different because the partners were not vetted by parents before the girl seeing the party. At least here, parents did their best to see whether the parties would suit. It did not always seem like that but it was the system.

  7. At first I had a difficult time with this book, but as you say, once I got the rhythm, I really enjoyed it. What a fabulous story!

  8. The tittle of the book had captured my attention also….. your review has made me want ot read it even more……

  9. What a nice review Sheila. I imagine that reading this book or listening to the audiobook is an experience where you will develop empathy with the characters. Your review had my attention from the beginning.

    Jess@ Jessy’s Bookends

  10. Thanks for this review Sheila! I have been curious about this book for a while and your review has definitely made me want to get my hands on a copy 🙂

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