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This week, Julie Otsuka’s “The Buddha in the Attic” won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The judges called it a “precise, poetic novel which tells the story of Japanese picture brides brought to California from Japan in the early twentieth century.”
The novel is written from the first person plural point of view and begins with the line “On the boat we were mostly virgins.” Julie Otsuka tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that having researched the lives of picture brides, she couldn’t tell just one story, there were too many to choose from. Otsuka also felt that this form of storytelling worked because Japan is a society that is very group-oriented.
“There were so many fascinating stories that I stumbled across,” says Otsuka. “I had originally tried to tell the story of one picture bride, but it just kind of felt flat to me. For several months I was kind of floundering and trying to figure out how to tell the story, when I looked at my notes and saw this line that jumped out at me. And it’s the line that’s now the first line of the novel.”
“The Buddha In The Attic” also looks at Japanese-Americans’ “quiet anger” at being forced to relocate to internment camps during World War II.
This story originally aired 9/20/11.