This month’s book from the Britmums book club is The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka and it was a very enjoyable read. I love it when I read a book and find out about little pockets of history that I had no idea about and this is one such book. The book follows the stories of a group of Japanese women who travel from Japan to America between the two World wars in search of a better life. They are promised handsome men with good prospects, and most find themselves in situations that are far from what they expected. On arrival in the States they meet men who are down on their luck and who work in the fields, or as servants or fishermen, not the glamourous looking men they saw in photos. The men come in all shapes and sizes, they are kind, unkind, indifferent to them. The women have to do back breaking work, they don’t understand the American ways, they get disowned by their families who when they hear of their new situation, are ashamed.
I liked the narrative as it was lots of voices combined, although I would love to read a novel on the same subject whereby you follow one or two women’s fortunes and really get to know the characters. By doing it this way a lot of ground is covered in a very short book (it’s only 129 pages in length). The stories are mostly sad as these women are never really American citizens, they are outsiders. And when war breaks out and Pearl Harbour is targeted their entire race is under suspicion, and they are eventually removed to the inner states of America. They are taken away from the towns they know, from the businesses they have grown and their children who were been born in the USA must have felt such confusion at never actually having been to Japan but not being accepted in their country of birth either.
I really enjoyed this book, it is beautifully written and harrowing at the same time. It prompted me to do a little bit of googling and read a bit more about the Japanese in America, and how eventually survivors and their heirs were given reparations from the US government and were given an apology. It really was a fascinating period in time, where America was a fairly paranoid and insular place.
I’m going to look into the author’s previous novel on the back of reading this as I liked the writing style and definitely want to keep up the momentum of reading as it’s such a great way to spend my time commuting to work daily!
I was sent this book free of charge.