The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka was one of our most controversial book club reads. Half the group hated it.
And I understand why. We were under the impression that Buddha was a novel. After all, it is packaged like a novel, it is promoted as a novel, but does this sound like an excerpt from a traditional novel?
We gave birth under oak trees, in summer, in 113-degree heat. We gave birth beside wood stoves in one-room shacks on the coldest nights of the year. We gave birth on windy islands in the Delta, six months after we arrived, and the babies were tiny, and translucent, and after three days they died. We gave birth nine months after we arrived to perfect babies with full heads of black hair. We gave birth in dusty vineyard camps in Elk Grove and Florin. We gave birth on remote farms in the Imperial Valley with the help of only our husbands, who had learned from The Housewife’s Companionwhat to do.
If I had to pick a genre, I’d call Buddha a poem, a really long poem.
Once you get accustomed to the complete absence of anything resembling a conventional novel, such as individual characters or an action driven plot, Buddha is an emotional story of the young Japanese women who were brought to California as “picture brides” in the early 20th C. I recommend it, over the objections of some of my book club cronies!
(As an aside, the book club member who most enjoyed the book listened to it on audio, a format especially well suited to the book’s rhythmic style.)