It is 1950. You have just bought an old run-down strawberry farm in Irvine, California. The plans are to raze the out buildings and barns but keep the farm mansion for a golf clubhouse. Along with the farm, you got a great deal on surrounding farms abutting the property.
Before bulldozing all the buildings for the grand golf course, workers are ordered to strip any fixtures that can be savaged. You find it odd when they report that most of the fixtures are already missing. They come back with tales of suitcases sitting by front doors that do not have knobs and broken dishes littering kitchens that look to be bone China in homes without sinks.
You must see. You travel to the nearest homestead and walk through a fine older home with tattered curtains and hard wood floors. The wood trim has an oriental flair, but where are the light fixtures that would have hung in the dining room and foyer? You get instant goose bumps when you find a pair of small shoes waiting to be slipped on at the back door.
Weird, did the occupants just vanished? No, you think. They probably stored stuff in the attic for safe keeping while gone. You ascend the pull-down stairs and come face-to-face with a jade Buddha.
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a stylish masterpiece. Never will you come across a story without one main character or one setting, but an infinite number of possibilities. The four paragraphs written above are to start your mind wandering. Only a few details from above actually appear in the book, but it is the style that holds readers.
Above, I use the word “you” and make the reader the main character. Otsuka’s technique is to use “we” as her character. We are one of the many Japanese girls crossing the Pacific to enter into weddings with men we do not know but cling to their pictures in our pale hands.
These “picture brides” of the 1900s have no way of knowing what will be waiting on the San Francisco docks for them. Some men are honest, but others use pictures of their handsomer friends or pay for a picture filled with props. These men are rich, poor, tall, short, fat, thin, illiterate, smart, nice, mean, etc. Like I mentioned, the story becomes endless.
My co-worker grew tired of the “we” character while reading. I was happy to tell her that it does become a “they” midway in the book.