Tuesday, October 2, 2012
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 calmly."
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!