The Buddha in the Attic

First, I want to acknowledge my impetus for reading this little book by pointing to the review at A Little Blog of Books. Then I want to give a slightly different view compared with some of the specifics of that review.

Yes, the narrative structure of The Buddha in the Attic is not typical of your every-day boring story, or is it? When I was a project manager for a large corporation I used special computer software to develop task flows for the planning and control of major projects. On more than one occasion the charts would consist of a single milestone followed by a widely expanded array of the numerous tasks that followed the milestone and then to collapse into another control point on the chart. This one to many and back to one structure is what I saw in Julie Otsuka’s interesting novel.

The prime narrative is

  • A New Future (Come, Japanese!)
  • Learning the Truth (First Night)
  • Discrimination (White)
  • A New Generation (Babies)
  • Assimilating (The Children)
  • Xenophobia (Traitors)
  • Betrayal (The Last Day)

In each of these thematic sections the author represents the theme with anecdotal evidence: simple, short, and exacting. The narrative structure expands from a single point to a broad array of micro-narratives and within those micro-narratives the author often expands further with sub-themes and additional levels of short narrative. No, this novel doesn’t read like Jane Eyre or whatever comfortable romance one might find on  the wire rack down at the drugstore, but it isn’t as unfamiliar as, say, David Markson or Raymond Federman.

I believe Otsuka has added a fresh view to the literature dealing with the Japanese people in America and the lamentable treatment they were forced to endure during World War II. You can read The Buddha in the Attic as a simple novel or as a narrative experiment or as an indictment of the racist fear-mongering that has been our American legacy right up until the present day.

It’s a quick read and I recommend it. You might also look into some of the early treatments of the subject of the Japanese Internment. This is a list of titles published on Goodreads:

  • Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford
  • Farewell to Manzanar – Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
  • Desert Exile – Yoshiko Uchida
  • The Invisible Thread – Yoshiko Uchida
  • No-No Boy – John Okada
  • Tallgrass – Sandra Dallas
  • Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps – Mary Matsuda Gruenewald
  • The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka
  • Nisei Daughter – Monica Itoi Sone
  • Journey to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese-American Evacuation – Yoshiko Uchida
  • Serving Our Country: Japanese American Women in the Military during World War II – Brenda L. Moore
  • Citizen 13660 – Mine Okubo
  • Haunted by Waters: A Journey through Race and Place in the American West – Robert T. Hayashi
  • Heart Mountain – Gretel Ehrlich
  • ポータル (Portal Chronicles, #1) – Imogen Rose
  • Summer of the Big Bachi (Mas Arai, #1) – Naomi Hirahara
  •  In Defense of Our Neighbors: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story – Mary Woodward
  • Weedflower – Cynthia Kadohata
  • A Cold Wind From Idaho – Tetsuden Kashima (Introduction)
  • The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito – Sheila Garrigue
  • The Bracelet – Yoshiko Uchida
  • Lost and Found: Reclaiming the Japanese American Incarceration – Karen L. Ishizuka
  • Under the Blood-Red Sun – Graham Salisbury
  • What the Scarecrow Said – Stewart David Ikeda
  • Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment – Dorothea Lange (Editor)
  • Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans, Manzanar Relocation Center, Inyo County, California: Photographs from the Libra – Ansel Adams
  • The Electrical Field – Kerri Sakamoto
  • Eyes of the Emperor – Graham Salisbury
  • Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad – Robert Asahina
  • Placing Memory: A Photographic Exploration of Japanese American Internment – Todd Stewart
  • An Enemy Among Friends – Kiyoaki Murata
  • Blue Jay in the Desert – Marlene Shigekawa
  • The Evacuation Diary Of Hatsuye Egami -Hatsuye Egami
  • From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps – Brian Komei Dempster
  • Obasan – Joy Kogawa

That final title, Obasan, is slightly different as is deals with the Japanese Internment in Canada during the war. I highly recommend reading this account, if anything because the treatment of the Japanese in Canada makes the disgraceful events in the United States seem not quite as bad in comparison.

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