The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I first found out about this book when it was named a finalist for the National Book Award. When I first read the Kindle preview of this, I decided I probably wouldn't like it because it felt like a "book club book," meaning a little light for my tastes. Having actually sat down and read it, I still dislike it, but for different reasons.
The second sentence of the novel: "We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall." This voice is not just for the set-up of the book, like I'd originally thought. No. Throughout the entire novel, Otsuka maintains this impersonal "we," referring to the Japanese women who move to the United States in the late 19th/early 20th century to marry men they've never met. The focus of the book shifts from "Come, Japanese" to "First Night" to "Babies" to "The Children" and so on, ending with all the Japanese in the area being round up and sent to Japanese internment camps during WWII.
It feels more like an epic poem. The entire time I was picturing someone reading these lines, intoning them low and serious, like the backdrop of a religious ceremony. As of such there isn't really a plot, per se. The reader never gets to know one person's story from another, everything is just a list of things that happen, but it is always to "we" or "one of us" and you can't follow anyone's story all the way through. It is almost as if Otsuka, in wanting to tell these womens' stories, diminishes their lives even further.