While walking through Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, a small poster on the wall caught my eye. It featured a picture of a Japanese woman in kimono with her face covered by a paper umbrella. Over the image were the words “The Buddha in the Attic.”
I Googled the title as soon as I was able to and discovered it’s a novel written by author Julie Otsuka, who was doing appearances and signings in Philly at that time. As soon as we returned home to the West Coast I checked out the book (released in 2011) from the library.
The premise of this novel follows a community of Japanese picture brides who immigrate to America in the early 1900s. It instantly reminded me of the novel “Honolulu” by Alan Brennert, but what makes “The Buddha in the Attic” different is how it’s written. The author tells the story in the first person plural, from the point of view of many girls and women. The stories are told in a succession of narratives that flow beautifully.
The journey of the women is told in eight chapters/sections.
“Come, Japanese” describes their backgrounds and experiences as they journey on the boat.
“First Night” explains their first wedding night with their husbands, many of whom turn out nothing like what they were expecting.
“Whites” follows the women as they try to form relationships with their bosses and neighbors.
“Babies” details giving birth to American children.
“Childbirth” shares experiences of raising Japanese American children who are ashamed of their immigrant parents.
“Traitors” follows the events post-Pearl Harbor.
“Last Day” describes the Japanese families packing up and moving out to locations unknown as a result of Executive Order 9066.
“A Disappearance” is told from the perspective of their white neighbors after they are relocated.
As I’ve stated before, I’m very passionate about learning and reading Japanese American history. My grandmother was a child in Japan during WWII who later married an American who brought her to the states in the early 1960s. I am proud of my family’s history and enjoy reading stories that shed light on what life was like for the Japanese in America during the war.
Ever since elementary school I have been fascinated by Charles Lindbergh. I even drew his Spirit of St. Louis plane for a school project in second grade, even if I only half understood the amazing feat he accomplished in his era.
Author Melanie Benjamin’s third novel, “The Aviator’s Wife,” tells the story of Lucky Lindy and his wife, told from the perspective of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It’s a work of historical fiction in which the author notes what is fact and then uses her imagination to write in the reactions and emotions. As Benjamin tells Anne’s story it is both heartbreaking and tragic as she includes the kidnapping and murder of their first son and how the Lindbergh family was more or less deserted by the great pilot.
It’s hard to imagine life as the wife of one of the world’s most famous celebrities after his solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. But Benjamin offers an imaginary glimpse into what it might have been like for Anne, who set aviation records in her own right.
In her author’s note, Benjamin shares her hope in writing historical fiction to inspire the reader to want to dig deeper and learn more. Such was definitely the case for me. As I researched the famous couple I was astonished to read Charles fathered seven children with three other women outside of his marriage. It is not known if Anne knew about this, and I will not spoil how Benjamin handled this in her story.
“The Aviator’s Wife” is a powerful and inspiring read. The Lindberghs were world famous celebrities, but their relationship had more than its share of heartache.
As a niece of an U.S. Air Force colonel, I have grown up hearing stories of my aunt’s missions and all she has accomplished in her career in aviation. I look up to my aunt in much the same way I’m sure many pilots look up to Lindbergh.
You can find “The Aviator’s Wife on amazon.com.