129 Pages Open Up a World

‘The Buddha in the Attic’. What an innocuous book title. And such a pretty cover.

But the world it opened for me was neither innocuous or pretty.


A confession first. I am pretty ill-informed of historical migration to the US. I knew about Italians and Irish going. And other Europeans—like the Polish. But I never thought of Asian migration as significant. Hence the very moorings of the book were an education. ‘Oh, Japanese migrate to the US in numbers in the 1880s?’ was the question that struck me. I had to do some little surfing and reading to give myself a context.

Just a quick wiki-glimpse of the highlights of this for those of my readers who may not be familiar with the issue:


Coming back to the book, it traces the stories of ‘picture brides’ who came to the US from Japan. And therein lies the brilliance. It is not the story of one woman or family. The technique that Julie Otsuka uses is such that through a tiny 129-page book, I begin to understand the history of the whole Japanese community in the US in the pre-WWII period, and get powerful insights into what might have happened to a whole set of picture brides.

Read it to understand history from the perspective of immigrants; read it to understand history from the perspective of women; read it to understand xenophobia is not new and that history does repeat itself; to learn that the stories of some women are the stories of all women; to learn that the stories of one diaspora are the stories of all diaspora; to learn how so much can be conveyed with so few words.

Bottom line, READ IT!


P.S: Feel really ill-informed. I never knew about this book or Julie Otsuka till recently.

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