in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Julie Otsuka, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 9 of 9
The Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka
There is a dark truth about writers. When we read good stuff, we get itchy fingers. Yep, we are word thieves, looting others work for nuggets of amazingness. My fingers weren't just itching by the time I got done with The Buddha in the Attic
, they were all aflame.
Why, pray tell? Otsuka pulls off what few have pulled off well - the perfect first person plural POV story. Can you believe it? An entire story told in first person plural, as in - "On the boat, we
were mostly virgins." Or - "That night our
husbands took us
quickly. They took us
At this point, I should probably sum up the plot - this book is about mail order brides from Japan in early 20th century U.S. - lest you get the impression this is the eastern version of Fifty Shades of Grey
. It's not. It's that rare literary creature - high concept that is literary. Otsuka proves they are not mutually exclusive terms.
Otsuka also seems to know instinctively exactly where the plural first person POV can begin to wear and breaks it up with short, individualized experiences - "He's healthy, he doesn't drink, he doesn't gamble, that's all I needed to know." They give the story traction since much of it works like a Greek chorus chanting en masse. The effect is to make the experiences of the thousands of mail order brides represented in this story a conglomeration of infinite, unique facets that blend into one voice retelling history.
So, if you are looking for a meaty read, or your fingers are itching for a good steal, get The Buddha in the Attic
. It won't disappoint.
For other great Fall harvests, skip over to Barrie Summy's website
. The gourd of good reading is overflowing this season!
By: Karen Thompson Walker,
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, Cormac McCarthy
, Jose Saramago
, Julie Otsuka
, Karen Thompson Walker
, Kazuo Ishiguro
, Marilynne Robinson
, Add a tag
Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel, The Age of Miracles, is, as Aimee Bender states, "glowing magic....at once a love letter to the world as we know it and an elegy." Julia is 11 years old when the earth, suddenly and inexplicably, begins rotating more slowly on its axis, forcing days and nights to get longer [...]
I'm not quite sure what it was that made me decide (spur of the moment, really) to buy We the Animals
, the slender debut novel by the widely acclaimed writer Justin Torres. I'd heard some humming about the book. I'd seen the ad. I'd read what Marilynne Robinson had to say: "Brilliant, poised and pure." I'd read the words of Paul Harding: "It is an indelible and essential work of art." It was an impulse purchase, a little easy finger work, and there it was, on my iPad, waiting to be read.
From start to finish, without once leaving the couch, I just read.We the Animals
is the third book that I've encountered in the space of a little more than a week that builds through plurals. There was the rhythmic they, they, they
of Colleen Mondor's remarkable debut memoir, The Map of My Dead Pilots
. There was the haunting, concentrating we of Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic.
And now here comes Torres with his story about brothers growing up within the chaotic fist of a poor, troubled family. "We wanted more," this book begins. "We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men."
Truly, I am tempted to just keep on quoting. Because look at that. Listen
to it. Justin Torres is carving out the sound of a song.
These boys are wild. Their mom was a teen when all three were born. Their father is a big, muscular, knotted man—a charmer and a rogue, a man who can purple up his wife with his fists and, just as powerfully, bathe a son. The kids are bound to each other and they're plastering each other—with hands, with words, with wants. Each scene is a distillation, a moment. Time moves warily forward. The boys are in for hurt, and they do some hurting themselves, and sometimes it all grows so unbearably tense that I had to close my eyes and summon my psychic strength to keep on reading.
Readers can never change the fate of the characters they meet. They can only hope for them. They can only fear for them. In reading We the Animals
, I did both. I succumbed to Torres's tale. I honor his literary powers.
The pages of my copy of The Sense of an Ending
, the gripping new novel by Julian Barnes, had not been cut. I had to slip my finger in between each one as I lay reading at the close of a snowy weekend. This pleased me greatly. The feel of the paper against my skin. The sound of a story unfolding.
I am always confused by critics of the short novel—by those who refer to the shorter novel as something lesser than
. I remember a conversation with Alice McDermott (Charming Billy, That Night, At Weddings and Wakes
), in which she spoke of writing the kind of stories she herself liked to read—shorter and more compact novels, densified worlds, intimate places, landscapes of measured, studied sentences.
Yes. Me, too. The short novel may or may not be about plot, may or may not be commercial (whatever that is). But when it is handled with the intelligence of an Alice McDermott or a Julian Barnes or a Julia Otsuka or a Kate Chopin or a Michael Ondaatje (Coming Through Slaughter
) or a Chloe Aridjis or a Kathryn Davis or an Anne Enright, for example, I personally think there is nothing finer. Brilliant short novels have the impact of poems. They are, most often, shorter precisely because the writer has taken the time to banish the extraneous and diluting, the self-aggrandizing or -indulgent. There is a story to be told. There is its core and there are those things essential to its core. The brilliant writer of shorter novels holds that line, maintains his or her focus, goes blessedly deep, does not skip from this event to that—indeed, does not concentrate on "events" at all. Character and meaning, language and symbol, the ripe stuff. Brilliant short novels concentrate, primarily, on that.
I know many who would disagree, and that's the beauty of this literary community—the possibility of conversation, dissension. (And of course I have many beloved books on my shelf that run past 300 pages, though I will admit that I don't have many favorites that run past 400.) But I hope no one will disagree with me about this new book by Julian Barnes. From the first sentence to the last I hardly exhaled. The entire book was of such a piece that I felt certain that Barnes himself was sitting here, telling this story about a man, Tony Webster, resorting the memories of his youth. Webster had thought himself a regular-enough student with a regular-enough first love affair. He had gotten on with his life and lived it reasonably well. But when he learns that he has been remembered in a will in an odd and oddly disturbing way, and when, over time, he is presented with evidence of who he really was as a young man, he is staggered in the way that we all are staggered when presented with contradictions of our own fine self-opinion.
Barnes, whose Nothing to Be Frightened Of
, is a fine and teachable book of nonfiction, puts his philosophical genius on full display in this novel, his great capacity for going deep. One example of many:
And so, for the first time, I began to feel a more general remorse—a feeling somewhat between self-pity and self-hatred—about my whole life. All of it. I had lost the friends of my youth. I had lost the love of my wife. I had abandoned t
By: Beth Kephart
Blog: Beth Kephart Books
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, Tim Parks
, Kelly Simmons
, A.S. King
, Leah Hager Cohen
, Justin Torres
, Paula Fox
, Timothy Schaffert
, illustrated books
, Julie Otsuka
, Shelf Awareness
, Add a tag
This morning Shelf Awareness
serves up this quote of the day
, and it stops me. I think I might just move on, but I can't.
Because Parks' assertion that reading the e-book frees us from "everything extraneous and distracting" ... "to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves" in no way jibes with my experience. Yes, I have downloaded dozens of books onto my iPad. Sadly, I've left many of them stranded. Unable to scribble in the margins, dog-ear the pages, underline emphatically—unable, in other words, to engage in a physical way with the text—I grew distracted, disinterested, bored. Yes, Michael Ondaatje will always keep me reading. And so will the work of my friend Kelly Simmons, and the words of Julie Otsuka, Leah Hager Cohen, A.S. King, Timothy Schaffert, Paula Fox, and Justin Torres—though I wish I owned all of that work on paper. But here on my iPad—stranded, unfinished—sit Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones
, Andrew Winer's The Marriage Artist
, Margaret Drabble's complete short stories, and many other tales. These are, most likely, extremely good books, and yet, I find myself incapable of focusing on them in their e-format. I need to interact—physically—with the texts before me. I can't do that, in the ways I'd like to do that, with a screen.
I am also, as a footnote, intrigued by Tim Parks' final lines, when he speaks of moving on from illustrated children's books. With the rise of the graphic novel and the increasing insertion of images back into teen books (and I suspect we'll see that illustration encroachment continue), I wonder if we have really moved away from illustrated texts. I wonder, too, if we should. Art is not just for juveniles, after all.
Here is the quote at length, as excerpted by Shelf Awareness.
"The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children's books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups."
in his post headlined "E-books Can't Burn" at the New York Review of Books
By: By JULIE BOSMAN,
The author, a native of California, was chosen from among more than 350 candidates for her novel "The Buddha in the Attic.''
By: Beth Kephart
Blog: Beth Kephart Books
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
The Cellist of Sarajevo
, Elizabeth Graver
, Carole Maso
, Julie Otsuka
, Mariette in Ecstasy
, Ron Hansen
, When the Emperor was Divine
, Out Stealing Horses
, Per Petterson
, Add a tag
There hadn't been time in a long time to return to my shelf of books, but this morning I did. I felt like I do on those Saturday mornings when I leave in the near-dark for the Farmer's Market and stand (in advance of jostling crowds) before cases of fresh cheese, fat shrimp, silk chocolate, blueberry muffins. Rich. That's how I felt.
I pulled Elizabeth Graver's Awake to my lap and read again the last 50 or so pages—one of the finest renderings of maternal guilt and regret that I have ever read. I pulled down Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor was Divine and decided to read it all the way through again tomorrow, so that I could remember fully why I loved it so much a few years ago. I took Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses into my hands, and resolved to read it again on Sunday. I returned to The Cellist of Sarajevo and remembered: Another book of multiple voices, masterfully done.
And then I started reading Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, and oh my, truly. Have you ever seen so much poetry in a novel's opening lines? Almost like reading Carole Maso's Ava—every detail an awakening, a surprise.
For you today, then, from Hansen:
Mooncreep and spire.
Ears are flattened to the head of a stone panther water spout....
Tallow candles in red glass jars shudder on a high altar.
White hallway and dark mahogany joists. Wide plank floors walked soft and smooth as soap.
Wide plank floors walked soft and smooth as soap.
I wrote recently of my hope to re-visit favorite books, and (though the weather changed, and a friend stopped by, and one new client project started while another ended) I've stayed the course. Rediscovering the crystalline pleasures of When the Emperor was Divine, for example, Julie Otsuka's slender novel about the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s. Five voices tell this tale in five exquisite chapters—the mother who discovers the evacuation orders, the daughter observing her disappearing world, the son who wanders about the internment camp, the son and daughter (a magnificent 'we') upon returning to a battered home in a prejudiced world, and the father who had been taken from them all much earlier. Five chapters. The cresendo of simple sentences. The power of quotidian detail. A book that every person should read—young adults especially. I was not disappointed in my return to this book. I wondered where Julie Otsuka, trained as a painter, might be now, what she is writing.
Yesterday I re-read Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, another narrow, artful volume, this one by Harriet Scott Chessman. The story of the painter, Mary Cassatt, and her sister, Lydia, dying of Bright's disease and serving as Mary's muse and model. A simple story, simply told—where plot is what a dying woman chooses to love, and how she helps her sister let her go. Excerpts from historic correspondence webbed right into the dialogue, the narrative. These final words: I yearn to be simply present in this day, filled for the moment with color and shape, my own hand urging the needle through the silk.
Today I'll take a new book on the train with me—Andrea Barrett's multi-voiced historical novel The Air We Breathe. Later in the week I'll be reading one classic I've never read (forgive me), Brideshead Revisited, and this weekend, while en route to San Antonio for the ALAN panel, I'll be reading John Berger's From A t0 X: A Story in Letters. All three books picked up at the local bookstore on Sunday, as part of my pledge to buy books and more books through this economic downturn.
Rare to find myself with this tunnel of reading time. Grateful for the whisking away, always.
Hurricane Irene has now become a pelting force. I have been reading Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic
in its dark and fearsome shadow. I'm not entirely sure how long I will have power, and there is much I'd like to say. But for now, and briefly, I want to share this with those of you in the still-electrified regions of our country: Julie Otsuka (the author of the contemporary classic (and one of my favorite books) When the Emperor was Divine
) writes important books. Deeply penetrating, remarkably researched, wholly intimate miniature novels that aren't novels at all, perhaps, but something else—urgent evocations, perhaps, or searing incantations.
Otsuka's focus, in Buddha
, is on the young Japanese women who arrived by boat shortly after World War I to meet the men they had agreed to marry and to begin lives that would never be the lives that they'd imagined. They are taken, many of them roughly, to bed. They are put to work in farms or in the houses of the rich. They bear children and they lose children and they have favorites among their children, and their children will grow up with an American sound and smell, with attitude and shame. When the next war begins, these lives will be savaged once again by the American paranoia that led to the building of the Japanese intern camps.
I keep saying "they" and "these" because this is a story told in the third-person plural. A we came, we did, we loved, we lost, we hoped, we were taken from
tale. That may sound like a peculiar story-telling choice, and indeed, it does, in places, box Otsuka in, forcing a sameness of sentence superstructure, as well as a sameness of variation from that superstructure. "On the boat we were mostly virgins," she begins, continuing:
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.
Can you sustain a book with a third-person plural? Can you make it matter? In this slender book, Otsuka does by offering a suite of detail-saturated, devastating chapters with titles like "Come, Japanese!," "First Night," "Whites," "Babies," and "Traitors." Only the last chapter, "A Disappearance," gives voice to the Americans who wonder, in the wake of the Japanese evictions, where their neighbors, school mates, grocery store clerks, maids have gone.
The rain is a sleeting as I type this. The news warns of apocalyptic floods, of communities remade, of evacuations; it tells of children already lost to the thunder crash of trees. I read Buddha
against this backdrop. I was moved toward a deep sadness for lives long ago lost.