The Buddha in the Attic
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award For Fiction National Book Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist A New York Times Notable Book A gorgeous novel by the celebrated author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times. BONUS MATERIAL: This edition includes an excerpt from Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens.
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As you read Julie Otsuka's The Little Buddha, we will explore the narrative point of view and the cultural perspectives throughout the work. Watch the video below, and keep an eye out for annotations and questions related to this topic. (This annotation contains a video)
Which type of narration does the author, Otsuka, choose to tell this story?
Take a moment and think about what travels with these woman on the boat. What types of physical items represent their culture? What values are apparent because of the items they bring?
Why are some words in this story italicized?
This short entry is meant to convey a sense of
Many Japanese are Buddhists. They follow the teachings of Buddha (shown below), a religious man who lived sometime between the 6th and 4th century BCE. The women aboard this ship (except for the one Christian) are influenced by Buddhism, and we will look more closely at how it influences their perspectives, actions, and even themes in this story. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following appears to have the MOST influence on these girls' values and point of view about the world?
The letdown that these girls experience is an example of irony. Watch the video below to learn more about this concept. What kind of irony is present in the final scene in the first chapter? (This annotation contains a video)
What literary technique does Otsuka use to create a sense of tension and a mood of despair in this chapter, "The First Night"?
Japanese were not a welcome group in most of California in the early 20th century. In fact, many Japanese were even held at internment camps, like Manzanar (shown below). What does the phrase "You now belong to the invisible world" imply about Americans' attitudes towards the Japanese? (This annotation contains an image)
What inference can be drawn based on the highlighted text?
The highlighted passage is an unique example of a flashback. Watch the following video to help you understand why. What effect does this flashback have on you as you read this story? (This annotation contains a video)
What cumulative effect does the use of first-person plural narration have on the tone of this story?
There are several themes in this story. Watch the following video to learn more about themes. What theme do you think the Japanese women's interaction with the wealthy white women most conveys? (This annotation contains a video)
What theme is MOST conveyed through the sections of the text that highlight the interaction between the Japanese and wealthy women?
Take a moment and think about the consequences these women face for living a duplicitous life. What do you think motivates them to leave? What theme does this section about their life away from their husbands most connect to?
Part I Quiz
Which of the following BEST describes the combination of moods that the imagery in this chapter conveys as the narrators discuss their experiences having babies?
Otsuka uses imagery in this chapter to help you visualize what these women experienced. Watch the video below on imagery. What's one example of imagery that you find particularly poignant? (This annotation contains a video)
Take a moment and think about the relationships that children have with their mothers and fathers in this community. What cultural values are apparent in the narrators' description of family life? Which of these values can you relate to?
Which theme do the narrators MOST strongly convey through their descriptions of their children's lives?
The word "forgot" is repeated throughout this section of the text. What effect does this repetition have on you as a reader? What theme does Otsuka convey through this section and the repeated use of the word "forgot"?
The imagery used in this highlighted text is meant to convey the narrators' sense of
Follow the link and read the poem "A Dream Deferred," by the poet Langston Hughes. In what ways does this poem relate to the experiences of these Japanese children in America mentioned in this chapter? Which example of segregation from "The Children" were you most affected by? (This annotation contains a link)
The following clip contains real footage from this tragic event in American history. Listen to the propaganda in this video and contrast it with the reality that you read in this chapter. (This annotation contains a video)
How does the highlighted passage MOST relate to the title of this story?
How does the treatment of the Japanese in America compare to the treatment of African Americans? Jewish people during the Holocaust in Europe? Take a moment and reflect on what you remember of Nazi Germany and slavery in American history, and compare it to what you read in this story.
In the beginning chapters of this story, the Japanese women have high expectations for their American experience. They are quickly disillusioned. What event, though, MOST precipitates a change of heart?
In the midst of the chaos of this paranoid prejudice and segregation, Otsuka inserts imagery about nature. Take a look at the highlighted passage. Why do you think she uses these types of images ? What effect do you think she hopes to accomplish?
Part II Quiz
What is the intended meaning of the imagery used in this highlighted line?
How does Otsuka challenge your assumptions about how people left for the interment camps? Think about the style of narration she uses, and how this contributes to a more robust, realistic understanding of this event.
The government's involvement in the Japanese internment camps left many Japanese wondering just how much freedom there really was in America. The relocation card (shown below) is a document from this time period. As we look back today, this internment seems foolish. What do you think drove the American government to such an extreme measure of prejudice? (This annotation contains an image)
How does the narration in "A Disappearance" MOST change from the narration in the previous chapters?
Otsuka's portrayal of what other Americans perceive during the displacement and internment is haunting. In what way does Otsuka create a mood of ghostly emptiness in this chapter? What details contribute to this mood?
The narrators, in general, have a ___ tone towards their Japanese neighbors.
Take a moment and think about how the Americans' response to the Japanese disappearance is slowly changing. They seem sad, but do they actually do anything about it? Do you think their response is a selfish or selfless one? Consider Edmund Burke's famous quote: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Part III Quiz