Julie Otsuka’s new novel is the story of picture brides traveling from Japan to San Francisco in the early 20th century. Perhaps most striking is the collective voice with which it is told.
Otsuka spoke during the Library Journal Day of Dialog that preceded BookExpo in late May, and called being a picture bride the equivalent of an internet date except that it was for life and there was no going back. Think of these girls, 13-15 years old at the beginning of the novel, leaving everything they’ve ever known to marry men they have never met. Many arrived to find that their husbands-to-be had greatly exaggerated their prospects, or enclosed a younger man’s photograph with their letters.
Otsuka’s debut novel, When the Emperor was Divine (Knopf, 2002), was an Alex Award winner, became a staple in school libraries, and found its way onto english and history class curricula. Although they are not connected, where that novel begins this one culminates, in the World War II internment camps.
In the popular media, The Buddha in the Attic was recently highlighted in O Magazines’s 18 Books to Watch for in September 2011, and Christian Science Monitor’s 11 Excellent Novels for Summer Reading.
Adult/High School–They are rich, poor, young, old, beautiful, and ugly and as they board the ship to America they clutch photos of the men they believe will be their new husbands. They are “picture brides,” traveling from Japan at the turn of the 20th century, seeking a better life. But upon landing in their new country, most enter a world of deception, poverty, discrimination, and backbreaking labor with migrant laborers, maids, or nannies as the only work available to them. Thanks to pure determination, they find work, buy houses and have children. Just as they begin to feel that they are indeed creating the brighter futures for which they worked so hard, those futures are instantly dashed when they are forced from their homes and relocated to desert camps during the Second World War. Through their many voices and many experiences, readers are transported directly into the hearts and souls of these young women and shown the world through their many eyes. Their combined voices are rich with image and feeling. Their story, narrated by a chorus of women, needs to be shared with teens, and this short, poetic story is an excellent choice with which to do so.– Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA