I know you’re not supposed to put the word “very” in front of “unique,” but in the case of THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC, it applies. This PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel is the first and probably only book you’ll ever read that is written from the “first-person collective” point of view. Never heard of it? It looks like these opening lines: “On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves.” And so on.
My favorite sentence, which also appears on page one, is this: “On the boat the first thing we did—before deciding who we liked and didn’t like, before telling each other which one of the islands we were from, and why we were leaving, before even bothering to learn each other’s names—was compare photographs of our husbands.” I was hooked.
The story of Japanese brides who arrive in the United States and find that their husbands look, shall we say, a little different from their photographs, might be a fine story all by itself. But Julie Otsuka, whose extensive research informs this 129-page gem, went further. Turns out that the women arrive not long before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and are subsequently relocated, along with more than 110,000 other Japanese-Americans, to internment camps. Otsuka captures in brilliant, telling detail the experiences of these women, men, and children.
In short, it’s a perfect matching of perspective with content.