This year's "One Book, One Philadelphia" choice gives voice to an American history story that's not widely known. The author of this year’s Free Library of Philadelphia selection spoke with WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston about her novel - The Buddha in the Attic.
Through mid-March the Free Library brings readers together to create new connections and understanding through literature. Author Julie Otsuka says she's not prescriptive about what readers take away from her short novel. Read it and decide for yourself.
DUDDLESTON: Author Julie Otsuka tells the story of first generation Japanese-American women who crossed the Pacific in the early 1900s as new wives of men known to them only through pictures and letters. She depicts their steely bravery and how they come to grips with a reality that's a world away from what they expect.
OTSUKA: I’m just, I’m kind of interested in fate. You’re just assigned a mate pretty much at random and you have to make it work with that man. There was no going back for these young girls because they were too poor to afford the ship passage back home.
Listen to a longer conversation with Otsuka to hear about the evolution of her book, The Buddha in the Attic.
DUDDLESTON: The narrative is set against the backdrop of anti-Japanese prejudice that led to the government-run internment camps during WWII. The style, Otsuka says, is rhythmic - like the music of composer Steve Reich - compulsive, propulsive with a hypnotic beat.
MUSIC: Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint
OTSUKA: I kind of feel like that's something that I'm aspiring to do with language. I mean I feel like there’s this secret underground rhythmic grid that holds the story together that has nothing to plot or with character, but it just has to do with the sound of the language and where the accents fall literally on the words. Just the sound of words and language.
A new year, a new book to nurture the hearts and minds of Philadelphians - and everyone! The award-winning novel by Julie Otsuka - The Buddha in the Attic - is a Japanese-American story of things left behind. It's this year’s One Book, One Philadelphia choice.
Starting January 17th through mid-March, The Free Library of Philadelphia will lead readers on a journey through the lives of Japanese-American “picture brides.” Their story starts with a voyage in steerage in the early 1900s, and culminates as they’re sent away to government internment camps during World War II. Otsuka’s rich portrayal reveals as much about our national character during those years as the personal resilience of these first-generation immigrants.
This past fall, the author shared her thoughts about writing The Buddha in the Attic - a prequel to her first celebrated novel, When the Emperor was Divine.