Critical Assessment

“Though Knopf, publisher of The Buddha in the Attic, classifies the book as a novel, it is more like a beautifully rendered emakimono, hand-painted horizontal scrolls that depict a series of scenes, telling a story in frozen moments. For those looking for a traditional story, be forewarned that there is no protagonist, plot or dialogue. The main character is simply ‘we.’ Sometimes a name is mentioned, occasionally even the same name twice, but for readers who prefer well-defined characters with whom to identify, and a clear narrative arc, this book is not for you. If, however, you are interested in a social history of the Japanese immigrant experience 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.”

Alice Stephens, “The Buddha in the Attic,” Washington Independent Review of Books, August 30, 2011.

First Excerpt

“On the boat we could not have known that when we first saw our husbands we would have no idea who they were. That the crowd of men in knit caps and shabby black coats waiting for us down below on the dock would bear no resemblance to the handsome young men in the photographs. That the photographs we had been sent were twenty years old. That the letters we had been written had been written to us by people other than our husbands, professional people with beautiful handwriting whose job it was to tell lies and win hearts. That when we first heard our names being called out across the water one of us would cover her eyes and turn away – I want to go home – but the rest of us would lower our heads and smooth down the skirts of our kimonos and walk down the gangplank and step out into the still warm day. This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.”

9781410446220_p0_v1_s260x420Second Excerpt

“What did we know, exactly, about the list? The list had been drawn up hastily, on the morning of the attack. The list had been drawn up more than one year ago. The list had been in existence for almost ten years. The list was divided into three categories: ‘known dangerous’ (Category A), ‘potentially dangerous’ (Category B), and ‘pro-Axis inclinations’ (Category C). It was nearly impossible to get your name on the list. It was extremely easy to get your name on the list. Only people who belonged to our race were on the list. There were Germans and Italians on the list, but their names appeared toward the bottom. The list was written in indelible red ink. The list was typewritten on index cards. The list did not exist. The list existed, but only in the mind of the director of military intelligence, who was known for his perfect recall. The list was a figment of our imaginations. The list contained over five hundred names. The list contained over five thousand names. The list was endless. Every time an arrest was made another name was crossed off the list. Every time a name was crossed off the list a new name was added to it. New names were added to the list daily. Weekly. Hourly.”