The Buddha in the Attic
Julie Otsuka's 2011 novel is stunning, and heartbreakingly prescient (if you followed the news regarding the U.S. border crisis). Set during the first half of the twentieth century, Otsuka tells the tale of a group of Japanese women who have come over to America to be brides to men they have never met. It follows the varied lives of Japanese Americans, up through the Japanese internment during World War II.
She writes in the first person plural to a haunting effect:
Overnight, our neighbors began to look at us differently. Maybe it was the little girl down the road who no longer waved to us from her farmhouse window. Or the longtime customers who suddenly disappeared from our restaurants and stores. Or our mistress, Mrs. Trimble, who pulled us aside one morning as we were mopping her kitchen and whispered into our ear, "Did you know that the war was coming?" Club ladies began boycotting our fruit stands because they were afraid our produce might be tainted with arsenic. Insurance companies canceled our insurance. Banks froze our bank accounts. Milkmen stopped delivering milk to our doors. "Company orders," one tearful milkman explained. Children took one look at us and ran away like frightened deer. Little old ladies clutched their purses and froze up on the sidewalk at the sight of our husbands and shouted out, "They're here!" And even though our husbands had warned us--They're afraid--still, we were unprepared. Suddenly, to find ourselves the enemy.
It almost read like poetry to me.
You may remember Otsuka from her debut novel, When the Emperor Was Divine, about the life of a Japanese-American family during World War II. This follow up is not as critically praised as the first, but captures a wider swath of experience. The stories of these Japanese women shaped by America will haunt you long after you finish reading.