The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: Book Review

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Cover of The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

3 Stars

Chronicling the lives of Japanese brides coming to America, Buddha in the Attic is deceptively slim. Almost every sentence begins a new story that is only hinted at, yet I saw at least the broad strokes of an entire life in just those few words. There is no main character and the book is told collectively. (NOT a direct quote) “We came from Japan. We left our remote farms. We left our lives in Tokyo. We left our fishing villages. We cried as we left our families. We left happily, vowing to never look back.” Listening to this on audio, the style bothered me a bit at first. It’s so freaking repetitive! I do not do well with anything repetitive. Once I did settle into the narrative, I saw the beauty of it. In about four hours, I was a part of the lives of what felt like hundreds of Japanese women, each with her own story.

The book starts with the young women on the boat, uncertain of their futures and their husbands. They’ve never even met the men they’re traveling halfway around the world to marry. Then there’s early married life, children, life as an immigrant, and, in the early years of WWII, life as a “traitor.” It was sometimes heart-breaking but always thought-provoking.

Samantha Quan narrates beautifully. I’ve not been a big fan of Carrington MacDuffie’s straightforward narration in the past but it worked very well for her small part in this book.

I might have rated this higher in print, despite the excellent narration, simply because I could have skimmed over the seemingly endless, “We came from”s and “We gave birth in”s. In whatever format you choose, this is an excellent little book and I do recommend it.

Read or listen to an excerpt.

Find author Julie Otsuka on her website and Facebook.

Buy The Buddha in the Attic at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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