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Extended Audio Sample The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (13,438 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Julie Otsuka Narrator: Samantha Quan, Carrington MacDuffi Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine (“To watch Emperor catching on with teachers and students in vast numbers is to grasp what must have happened at the outset for novels like Lord of the Fliesand To Kill a Mockingbird” —The New York Times) is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ nearly a century ago.

In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singularly spellbinding novel about the American dream. 

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Precise, focused…Penetrating…A boldly imagined work that takes a stylistic risk more daring and exciting than many brawnier books five times its size. Even the subject matter is daring…Specific, clear, multitudinous in its grasp and subtly emotional.”

    Huffington Post

  • “Daring…Frequently mesmerizing…Otsuka has the moves of cinematographer, zooming in for close-ups, then pulling back for wide lens group shots…[Otsuka is] a master of understatement and apt detail…Her stories seem rooted in curiosity and a desire to understand.”


  • “[Otsuka] brazenly writes in hundreds of voices that rise up into one collective cry of sorrow, loneliness, and confusion…The sentences are lean, and the material reflects a shameful time in our nation’s past…Otsuka winds a thread of despair throughout the book, haunting the reader at every chapter…Otsuka masterfully creates a chorus of the unforgettable voices that echo throughout the chambers of this slim but commanding novel, speaking of a time that no American should ever forget.”

    Minneapolis Star-Tribune

  • “A gorgeous mosaic of the hopes and dreams that propelled so many immigrants across an ocean to an unknown country…Otsuka illuminates the challenges, suffering, and occasional joy that they found in their new homeland…Wrought in exquisite poetry, each sentence spare in words, precise in meaning and eloquently evocative, like a tanka poem, this book is a rare, unique treat…Rapturous detail…A history lesson in heartbreak.”

    Washington Independent Review of Books

  • “With great daring and spectacular success, she has woven countless stories gleaned from her research into a chorus of the women’s voices, speaking their collective experience in a plural ‘we,’ while incorporating the wide range of their individual lives…The Buddha in the Attic moves forward in waves of experiences, like movements in a musical composition…By its end, Otsuka’s book has become emblematic of the brides themselves: slender and serene on the outside; tough, weathered, and full of secrets on the inside.”

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

  • “Spare and stunning…By using the collective ‘we’ to convey a constantly shifting, strongly held group identity within which distinct individuals occasionally emerge and recede, Otsuka has created a tableau as intricate as the pen strokes her humble immigrant girls learned to use in letters to loved ones they’d never see again.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Mesmerizing…Told in a first-person plural voice that feels haunting and intimate, the novel traces the fates of these nameless women in America…Otsuka extracts the grace and strength at the core of immigrant (and female) survival and, with exquisite care, makes us rethink the heartbreak of eternal hope. Though the women vanish, their words linger.”


  • “A fascinating paradox: brief in span yet symphonic in scope, all-encompassing yet vivid in its specifics. Like a pointillist painting, it’s composed of bright spots of color: vignettes that bring whole lives to light in a line or two, adding up to a vibrant group portrait.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Otsuka’s incantatory style pulls her prose close to poetry…Filled with evocative descriptive sketches…and hesitantly revelatory confessions.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “A stunning feat of empathetic imagination and emotional compression, capturing the experience of thousands of women.”


  • “Arresting and alluring…A novel that feels expansive yet is a magical act of compression.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “Exquisitely written…An understated masterpiece…that unfolds with great emotional power…Destined to endure.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “A lovely prose poem that gives a bitter history lesson.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Unforgettable and essential both for readers and writers.”

    Library Journal

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Finalist
  • Winner of the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award
  • A 2011 Barnes & Noble Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2011 Library Journal Best Book for Fiction
  • New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Fiction, 2011
  • A 2011 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction
  • A 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Fiction

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Meg | 2/18/2014

    " A great read in the plural voice. Great use of historical detail to make real people's lives come to life. I loved the way it was structured by chapter (the journey, the first night, etc.). "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Patricia Baker | 2/13/2014

    " I loved this book...with all the Japanese/Chinese book themes out, this was one of the best books. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Lois25 | 2/4/2014

    " Japanese Mail Order brides. Very good, enlightening story. Short and easy to read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Shana | 1/30/2014

    " At my mother's insistence, I plowed through this short novel depicting the lives of Japanese picture brides brought from Japan to San Francisco in the early 1900s. The poetic prose has been described as incantatory, and I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. Rather than focusing on a main character or a small cast of them, The Buddha in the Attic takes on a collective voice that describes the many and varied experiences of these women. It covers everything from their voyages across the sea to their later journeys to internment camps and everything in between. Highly informative and beautifully written, this novel would be a great teaching tool and is a quick, lovely read. "

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