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  • Writer's pictureGaili Schoen

The Buddha in the Attic

"By day we worked in their orchards and fields, but every night, while we slept, we returned home. Sometimes we dreamed we were back in the village....Sometimes we were standing in front of the mirror with our older sister.... And everything was as it should be. But when we woke up we found ourselves lying beside a strange man in a strange land in a hot crowded shed that was filled with the grunts and sighs of others."

After reading Julie Otsuka's first wonderful book, When the Emperor was Divine, I was excited to learn more about the Japanese-American experience in her second book, The Buddha in the Attic. Both books cover traumatic events; When the Emperor was Divine describes life for Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps during WW2, and The Buddha in the Attic describes life for Japanese women who came to the western states of America as "picture brides" to marry Japanese-American farm laborers, mainly between 1908-1920. But Otsuka tells these women's stories with such grace and compassion, we feel their pain, learn about their terrors, and understand their quiet outrage, while still enjoying their stories. Rather than telling one woman's story, Otsuka tells their stories collectively:

"On the boat, the first thing we did--before deciding who we liked and didn't like, before telling each other which one of the islands we are from, and why we were leaving, before even bothering to learn each other's names--was compare photographs of our husbands."

I learned that most Japanese Americans today are descended from these marriages, about the rampant racism they faced (both in Hawaii and the mainland), and how difficult and lonely their lives were, even after having children. I love learning about history within a beautifully-told story, and would recommend The Buddha in the Attic to anyone who would enjoy learning more about our American history and culture.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 on GoodReads (see our RipeReads group!) Paperback 144 pages, Audiobook 3 hours, 52 minutes


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