Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic

When I checked out Julie Otsuka's novel, The Buddha in the Attic, I thought I was going to read about a Buddha that lived in an attic. A quick enlightening read ~ 129 pages ~ as the Buddha changed lives. Instead, I have been struggling to finish the book and stopped reading.

The story starts on a boat filled with mostly virgins. The Japanese women were en-route to America to meet and marry their husbands. "We had long black hair...", "some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel...", "some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves."

The story never settled down to introducing the character who was describing the we's and us's. Long, seemingly endless paragraphs featuring more of the same. I wondered, "When is the story going to start?" As I plodded along, putting the book down, in favor of another book, I also wondered what was the plot. The theme? An  endless series of group descriptions.

Some of that was interesting, yet after a dozen or so pages, I tired of all the "some of us" or "we" or "us", never knowing who the speaker of the novel was. At times, I had to re-read sentences to make sense out of them. If a Buddha, other then mention of prayers or a statue appeared, it happened after I put the book down for the last time.

I have read about families being destroyed after the attack on Pearl Harbor as Japanese/Americans and immigrants were rounded up and placed in internment camps. Nearby San Pedro once had a thriving fishing industry with many soon to be displaced Japanese. Thus the story could have been enlightening in a different manner if only it was told in a plural.

Towards the end of the novel, after the "brides" and other unknown "some of us" or "we's" went missing or their homes abandoned, "New people begin to move into their houses." "Vagrants and squatters. County folk. Not our kind." I would not have read that passage, except by skipping ahead to the end hoping to find mention of the Buddha in the attic.

There was a bit of humor in that the whoever "we" that was speaking complained about these new people ~ some can not even spell. At the start, the brides did not know how to spell English words either. A few other complaints about those people that were the same as once levied at themselves.

Also, I was wondering about chapters. At times I do end reading at new chapters, but it seemed waiting upon a new chapter in this book was a long time coming. I gave up reading The Buddha in the Attic somewhere after a chapter titled The Children began.

A paragraph begins, "Always, we had favorites." Perhaps it was the oldest "Or our second son, Yoichi, who taught himself how to read English by the time he was four. He's a genius. Or Sunoko, who always tugged at our sleeve with such fierce urgency and then forgot what it was she wanted to say."

"...we would tell her." We, who? The collective brides? As near as I could tell the boat brides went off in many different directions.

Okay, did Sunoko tug at all the bride's sleeves? Our second son sounds like the husband and wife's, not a collective "we" or "some of us." The entire novel was written that way, which I found way too annoying to use time that could be spent reading something else on this one.

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