The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Published: March 2012
Genre: adult, historical fiction
Summary: A gorgeous novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. The story traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the arrival of war. This is a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.
Review: I’ve never come across a narration quite like this before. It was written in plural — “we” and “us” instead of “I” or “she.” (Grammar nerds, please tell me the correct name for it!) This narrative style is fitting, as this short book details the lives of Japanese “picture brides” coming to San Fransisco in 1917, working the lands, raising children, and disappearing during WWII. As a society that values the group over the individual — and told through the eyes of women — it makes sense for the structure to follow that narrative style, too. These poor women, these lost voices, were so hopeful in the beginning for a new and prosperous life, only to find their husbands were lies; they would continue to work the land; they might eventually work in laundries or great homes; they would raise their children as Japanese only to find their children shamed and rejecting their culture for an American one; they would wake up in the morning to an empty bed and no husband in sight; and they would, one by one, leave their homes and cross the Rockies, never to be seen or heard from again. Thought-provoking.
This qualifies as book 4 of 10 library books in 2016.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Publisher: W.W. Norton Company
Published: November 1998 (first published in 1966)
Genre: adult, historical fiction
Summary: The novel is Rhys’s answer to Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë’s book had long haunted her, mostly for the story it did not tell–that of the madwoman in the attic, Rochester’s terrible secret. Antoinette is Rhys’s imagining of that locked-up woman, who in the end burns up the house and herself. Wide Sargasso Seafollows her voyage into the dark, both from her point of view and Rochester’s. It is a voyage charged with soul-destroying lust. “I watched her die many times,” observes the new husband. “In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty.”
Review: The one reason I’m not giving this one star is because it’s an excellent example of colonialism and racism in the nineteenth century. The book’s saving grace is the academic fodder for discussion. Apart from that, I had a hard time caring about Bertha, or understanding the motivations and personalities of the characters. It’s not a compelling story, and I’m not sure it could stand on its own. It’s as if the only way this could be read is alongside or after reading Jane Eyre. Otherwise the writing feels disjointed, disconnected, and lost.
This qualifies as book 5 of 10 library books in 2016.
6 thoughts on “Mini Reviews VI”
Book Club Mom
The Buddha in the Attic sounds like a book I would like to read. I love historical fiction. I think using “we” as the narrator is an interesting and unique way to explain the theme of the book, the time frame and the Japanese culture.
It was brilliantly done. In many ways it felt a little uncomfortable (I want to follow a specific person!), but I think it’s supposed to make you feel that way. And it’s a great reflection of the culture. Well done.
That’s too bad about Wide Sargasso Sea… the premise sounds so interesting! I absolutely adore Jane Eyre, so I might have to give it a try anyways. Great reviews!
Jane Eyre is my favorite book ever ever ever. It only seemed appropriate to read the “companion” and I was very curious to see Bertha’s POV. Even though it fell flat for me, and I felt it couldn’t stand on it’s own without JE, I would be curious to see what readers thought of the book, NOT having read JE. If that makes sense…
Nice review of the Buddha of the Attic. The history of Japanese migration to America is always shady and not widely discussed. I will definitely have to pick this one up!